The National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA) has launched a formal defect investigation into the Chevrolet Volt after two vehicles caught fire as part of testing conducted by regulators. Last week, a Chevy Volt battery pack caught fire after being intentionally damaged a week earlier by NHTSA. The agency also recorded a temperature increase in another battery pack one day after it was damaged, and a third pack emitted smoke and sparks after a similar test. These latest fires are in addition to a battery fire in a crash-tested Volt in June. There, a fire occurred at a storage facility three weeks after the Volt was crash-tested. General Motors attributed that fire to a failure to deactivate the lithium-ion battery in the vehicle.
General Motors’ executives have been quick to point out that none of the crashes have caused a fire in the immediate aftermath of an accident. While General Motors has sent its own personnel to the site of every accident involving a Volt, they believe the bigger concern is what happens to the batteries in the days and weeks following an accident. According to their executives, electrical energy left in a battery is similar to having gasoline in the tank of a damaged car. To reduce the risk of fire when the vehicle is stored, the lithium-ion batteries should be “de-powered” by trained service personnel. Though they maintain that the Volt is safe to drive, General Motors is offering free loaner cars to the owners of the more than 5,329 Volts sold in the United States.