The Chevy Volt fire rumors started early this week, when the utility company Duke Energy told its customers to stop using their Chevy Volt home chargers after an October 30 fire. At last word, NHTSA said that
No conclusions have yet been reached regarding the cause of the fire. We are continuing to monitor the situation.
But it seems that the investigation is coming home, as Bloomberg just reported that a Chevy Volt caught fire at a NHTSA facility,
shortly weeks after being crash tested.
The Volt caught fire while parked at a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration testing center in Wisconsin, three weeks after a side-impact crash test, said an agency official. The official, as well as the three other people familiar with the inquiry, said they couldn’t be named because the investigation isn’t public.
The fire was severe enough to burn vehicles parked near the Volt, the agency official said. Investigators determined the battery was the source of the fire, the official said.
GM’s response came from spokesman Greg Martin, who insists that the Volt would not have caught fire had NHTSA followed GM’s post-crash safety protocols.
In June, GM and NHTSA both crashed a Volt and could not replicate the May fire, Martin said. GM has safety procedures for handling the Volt and its battery after an accident. Had those been followed, there wouldn’t have been a fire, he said in a phone interview.
“There are safety protocols for conventional cars,” Martin said. “As we develop new technology, we need to ensure that safety protocols match the technology.”
The Volt has received NHTSA’s top safety rating based on crash testing, although in the side impact test, some metal did apparently penetrate the Volt’s battery. Whether or not that’s related to this latest fire, whether NHTSA did in fact follow post-crash procedures and other key details remain unconfirmed at this time. The government is in contact with other automakers currently selling or planning to sell cars with lithium-ion batteries as its investigation rolls on.
UPDATE: GM Chief EV Engineer Jim Federico writes
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 gas-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.