Federal safety regulators are looking into the safety of lithium-ion batteries after a Chevrolet Volt went up in flames at a parking lot at the National Highway Traffic Administration testing center in Wisconsin.
An agency official said that the incident took place three weeks after the Chevrolet Volt went through a side-impact crash test on May 12.
The Volt incident has forced authorities to ask automakers that sell cars equipped with lithium-ion batteries in the U.S., including GM, Nissan and Ford, about the potential fire risks, according to agency officials familiar with the matter.
Lithium-ion batteries, such as the ones powering the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf, are considered more efficient than nickel-metal units used in other vehicles like Toyota’s Prius hybrid.
Even Toyota is making the move to lithium-ion technology for its Prius plug-in hybrid model and RAV-4 EV that will soon launch in the U.S.
GM and NHTSA tried but failed to replicate the May event by crashing a Volt in June. GM spokesperson Greg Martin told Blooomberg in a phone interview that the company has safety procedures for handling the Volt and its battery after an accident, adding, "had those been followed, there wouldn’t have been a fire."
Today, Jim Federico, General Motors chief engineer for electric vehicles, made the following statement:
“First and foremost, I want to make this very clear: the Volt is a safe car. We are working cooperatively with NHTSA as it completes its investigation. However, NHTSA has stated that based on available data, there’s no greater risk of fire with a Volt than a traditional gasoline-powered car.
Safety protocols for electric vehicles are clearly an industry concern. At GM, we have safety protocols to depower the battery of an electric vehicle after a significant crash.
We are working with other vehicle manufacturers, first responders, tow truck operators, and salvage associations with the goal of implementing industry-wide protocols.”
Story References: GM and Bloomberg