The 2012 Chevrolet Volt is now good to go according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Following weeks of investigation into potential post-crash fire concerns with Chevy’s extended-range electric vehicle—and some recently introduced modifications to the Volt’s battery-protection measures—the agency has officially closed its safety defect investigation. The bottom line: NHTSA “does not believe that Chevy Volts or other electric vehicles pose a greater risk of fire than gasoline-powered vehicles. … NHTSA continues to believe that electric vehicles show great promise as a safe and fuel-efficient option for American drivers.”
The result was a welcome outcome for Chevy, particularly since the issue arose just as Volt sales were themselves starting to catch fire. After selling only a few hundred units per month this summer and routinely being outperformed by the Nissan LEAF, the Volt topped the 1,110-sales mark in October, did the same in November and then tallied 1,529 deliveries in December—and it bested the Nissan in all three months as well. In fact, for Q4 of 2011, the Volt rang up 3,776 sales to the LEAF’s 2,475.
Now, as readers may recall, the fire issue first came to light after a Volt had undergone crash testing and was awaiting disposal in a NHTSA storage lot. It was there, some weeks after the actual crash, that the Volt’s battery pack caught fire. NHTSA also was able to replicate these results in a lab setting, and that, combined with “the innovative nature of this emerging technology,” led the agency to open its investigation—even though it has not received any real-world complaints about a problem.
GM was quick to respond. While never wavering from its belief the Volt was a safe vehicle, the General enhanced protection around the Volt’s battery pack to help safeguard it from being punctured during an accident, added a sensor for monitoring coolant levels in the pack and installed a bracket to help prevent overfilling the coolant tank. In addition, NHTSA worked with a number of other groups, including the National Fire Protection Association and the U.S. Department of Energy, to develop interim guidelines for dealing with the Volt and other EVs.
Unsurprisingly, efforts like this latter one will be ongoing, as governmental agencies at all levels, as well as consumers, automakers and other interested parties, get used to the growing number of electric vehicles on the road today.
As for GM, the automaker released a statement saying, in part: “NHTSA's decision to close their investigation is consistent with the results of our internal testing and assessment. The engineering enhancements that GM announced January 5, 2012, will provide additional protection for the battery minimizing the risk of a post-crash fire in the days and weeks after a severe crash and rollover. … Our overriding commitment will always be to provide our customers with the best ownership experience and peace of mind in the industry and we're focused on delivering that every day.”
To see for yourself how well the automaker is meeting that challenge, visit your local Chevy dealership today.