Safety Regulators Close Volt Investigation: Time to Get Moving Beyond Oil

Top safety regulators at the National Highway Traffic Safety Transportation Administration (“NHTSA”) have closed the books on the Chevy Volt safety investigation. NHSTA concluded last Friday that it does not believe the Volt and other electric vehicles “pose a greater risk of fire than gasoline-powered vehicles.”  This is good news for drivers, the economy, and our energy future.

Unfortunately, there are some in Washington D.C. that are attempting to turn a prudent safety investigation into a referendum on our nation’s commitment to clean energy and ending our dependence on oil. Congressman Darrell Issa will hold a hearing today with the country’s top safety regulator, David Strickland, and the CEO of GM, Dan Akerson, as the main witnesses.

Let’s quickly review the facts of the investigation:

  • First, no fires have been reported in real-world to be caused by lithium ion batteries that power the Volt and other electric vehicles including the Nissan Leaf, Tesla Roadster, and the hybrid versions of the Hyundai Sonata, Infinity M35, Buick LaCrosse, and Mercedes S400. The Volts in question caught fire under laboratory test conditions that NHSTA and GM were unable to replicate in subsequent tests. With an abundance of caution due to the novelty of the technology, NHTSA chose to launch its safety investigation in the absence of any real world incidents, something it rarely does.
  • Second, GM moved quickly to install retrofits that strengthen the battery case and ensure the integrity of the liquid cooling system. Crash tests by both NHTSA and GM of Volts with these modifications have produced no fires.
  • Third, gasoline vehicles carry a significant risk of fire.  According to the National Fire Protection Association, there were 184,500 reported vehicles fires in 2010. This is high rate of fire, about 0.75 fires for every 1,000 vehicles.  With about 17,000 Volts and Leafs driven tens of millions miles to date, the first year of electric vehicle experience supports NHTSA’s conclusion that the Volt and other electric vehicles do not pose a greater risk of fire than gasoline-powered vehicles.

The Volt received the highest ratings possible for overall safety from both NHTSA and the independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (”IIHS”), neither of which intends to alter its ratings as a result of the investigation.  The IIHS crash tests found no evidence of damage to the Volt's battery packs. "If we had found that the battery pack had been damaged or certainly if we had subsequent concerns about fire risk - that would have raised red flags," IIHS spokesman Russ Rader told Reuters.

Rather than promoting clean energy technologies to get America off oil, electric vehicle naysayers in Washington D.C. have chosen instead to attack the Volt. If successful, these attacks will only serve to benefit oil-exporting countries in the Middle East and elsewhere, at the expensive of workers building electric cars in Michigan, Tennessee, and California. 

Fortunately, Volt owners know better. Ninety-three percent of Volt drivers told Consumer Reports they would “definitely buy (the Volt) again,” the highest ranking of any car ever included in the survey.  That’s a hopeful sign that consumers are ignoring the political theatrics and are voting with their wallets for an oil free future.