By on January 5, 2012

General Motors announced changes to the Chevrolet Volt’s design after a NHTSA investigation into why a Volt caught fire following crash testing.

The changes will go into effect once production restarts at the Hamtramck, Michigan facility, but customer cars already sold will follow a different protocol.

Starting in February, GM will initiate a “voluntary customer satisfaction program” to make the necessary changes to the Volt. According to GM’s Rob Peterson said that  formal recalsl must be initiated by NHTSA, and their lack of movement prompted GM to enact a voluntary one instead.

The fix involves changes to the Volt’s battery pack housing, as well as a coolant temperature sensor and a special bracket to prevent overfilling. The previous system allowed the battery housing to be punctured, which then resulted in coolant overflowing onto a circuit board causing an electrical short. The short was determined to be the cause of the fire.

 

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39 Comments on “The Fix Is In As GM Makes Changes To Volt After NHTSA Investigation...”


  • avatar
    geozinger

    IIHS has a different experience:

    …But while the NHTSA discovered one of its test cars caught fire after undergoing crash testing, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety — which also totaled three Chevrolet Volts in the interest of crash-safety testing — didn’t see any Volts catch fire.

    The difference, according to EVworld.com, is that while the NHTSA managed to rupture battery coolant lines during testing, almost identical crash tests at the hands of the IIHS failed to damage the Volt’s battery pack housing or coolant pipes.

    And without a ruptured coolant line or battery pack housing, the liquid coolant — now believed to be the cause of the NHTSA crash-test fires — couldn’t leak into the Volt’s 16 Kilowatt-hour battery pack and cause an electrical short.

    Moreover, the IIHS test-cars, which were wrecked during testing in February, remained in a fully-charged post-crash test for nearly five months before a technician from Chevrolet came to discharge their battery packs… (bold emphasis mine)

    …And yet we’ve not seen much mention of the Volt’s IIHS crash test successes since, allowing many commentators with political axes to grind the chance to continue their uninformed war against Chevrolet’s plug-in hybrid.

    Link below:

    http://tinyurl.com/7tcnslw

    I’m glad GM got on a solution so quickly. I hope this level of consumer concern remains at this level.

    Man, do I wish this blog had a preview function…

    • 0 avatar
      chuckrs

      With only a few cars crashed, you can’t definitively say they are safe post crash. With only a few cars crashed and one catching fire, you can definitively say something’s wrong.

    • 0 avatar
      ppxhbqt

      “almost identical crash tests at the hands of the IIHS”

      Hardly; the Volt in question with the coolant leak was the one in a side pole test. The IIHS doesn’t conduct a similar test. Its test uses a ram simulating an SUV. That test doesn’t produce near the load concentration that NHTSA’s pole test does. I’m sure that IIHS doesn’t use such a test because it doesn’t represent the accidents that insurers pay out claims on nearly as much as a T-bone wreck involving two vehicles. But it does happen.

      Also, NHTSA only had one Volt catch fire following a crash test. The other two fires were in batteries they purposely ruptured to simulate the rupture on the Volt from the pole test.

    • 0 avatar
      VanillaDude

      The Volt was presented to Congress as a reason for the bailout. It showed up as a Malibu mule, remember? Congress approved a bailout while GM touted the Volt as a key to it’s future.

      How many Volts were available at that time? Talk about hyping up a non-existent vehicle.

      We all have seen similar GM fiascos before. I think based on our experience with GM not meeting expectations, everyone had pretty realistic goals and a whole lot of patience. Especially considering how much we are being taxed for this thing.

      It has been over two years. The car is not successful on the market. Now this. It has been a slow motion car wreck watched by millions of patient weary taxpayers.

      The jig is up.

      It wasn’t what we were told it would be. It ended up a GM version of what Nissan and Toyota does better. The Volt not only didn’t save GM, it didn’t even end up being as good as the first generation Prius – a decade ago.

      It is a hybrid Edsel.

      Everyone wants to keep quiet about this and give GM a chance. I understand that. But developments over the past year, and now this, will simply not enhance this vehicle to keep sales as bad as they have been. The Volt needed to be better than this. GM bet on it – with our dough. Consequently, we are personally involved. Even after GM claimed it paid us back – which isn’t accurate – buyers already formed an opinion about the Volt. That opinion is reflected in this car’s sales. It will not get better.

      • 0 avatar
        Steven02

        Maybe you should go see the list of cars that the Volt is leading in sales before calling it a failure. TTAC had a link about what the Volt and Leaf were outselling.

      • 0 avatar
        Herm

        “It wasn’t what we were told it would be. It ended up a GM version of what Nissan and Toyota does better. The Volt not only didn’t save GM, it didn’t even end up being as good as the first generation Prius – a decade ago.”

        Nonsense.. it has delivered everything that was promised.. 40 miles of range on electricity, up to 100mph speeds and unlimited range on gasoline. While in the hybrid mode it gets 37mpg combined and that is exceptional for a nearly 4000lb car on a measly 80hp engine, and with decent sporty performance. Where you disappointed it did not have a Mr Fusion range extender?

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        Is that why GM sedans are 15 to 20% heavier than their competitors? Because they should get some sort of recognition for returning unimpressive fuel mileage while being obese? What’s the Volt leading in sales that isn’t a niche product, a luxury car, or another flop? The Volt failed to meet GM’s own sales goal, a sales goal that wasn’t some pie in the sky ambition, but 10,000 units for a car that received almost unprecedented publicity. With taxpayer funded subsidies ranging up to 25% in the states that were the Volt’s best perspective markets, the Volt failed to sell 10,000 units. Somehow this is supposed to turn around now that the early adopters already have their Volts and the taxpayer subsidies for $175,000 households are under fire. I wouldn’t count on it.

  • avatar
    ppxhbqt

    One reason not to do a recall is that all the letters, protocols, etc. have to be run by by the feds before it can even begin. GM can start this today if it wants.

  • avatar
    MrGreenMan

    At least it wasn’t like waiting four years for acknowledgment of the flawed steering wheel/column design on the Epsilon I cars, or that the fix wasn’t issued in 2006 but rather 2009 originally. Maybe they can bring this level of attention to problems to the timing chain problems that are going to hurt resale values of FWD 3.6 V6 configurations?

    • 0 avatar
      Steven02

      Or, the FWD 3.6L V6 configuration timing chain problem was fixed several months ago. If you care to know, it was an oil life monitor problem that was allowing people to go far to long without changing their oil.

  • avatar
    AJ

    Curious, with the Volt and other similar cars, if a wrecked car can be repaired, does the manufacturer have to do it? How many of the typical small auto body shops can actually work on such cars? (That would be an interesting article.)

    • 0 avatar
      Steve65

      There’s nothing particularly exotic or special about their structure. They’re just steel unibody cars. Aluminum-body Audis need more-specialized handling.

      • 0 avatar
        Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

        Yeah, I actually dented and scratched my hood when my motorcycle handlebar toppled onto it, the OEM replacement for a bare metal part is in the $400 range, closer to $1k with paint, mats and labor from a well-recommended local body shop.

        I reckon I’ll bring the car in for the battery reinforcement, the latest firmware update, and the tire rotation at 7500mi. From what it looks like, the mods are approximately as involved as adding roll bars, which shouldn’t be bad.

        They claim it’ll be available in Feb, but I doubt I’ll hit 7.5k mi before April, so no hurry.

  • avatar
    Trend-Shifter

    I applaud GM for taking this action without being forced to do so.

    They also deserve credit on how fast they trouble-shooted the issue, engineered the improvements, tooled it up, and have an implementation plan in place.

    This illustrates how far the GM organization has evolved and proved it is a formable global competitor.

    Let’s see if the GM ELR comes to life. If it does Tesla will not be able to compete after the early adopters and collectors buy their cars and their car is judged on it’s merits and value.

    • 0 avatar
      seth1065

      Gotta agree with Trend Shifter on this one, maybe GM did not want to fix it but they did and rather quickly, I am not sure if the old GM would be this out in front on a fix or just drag it out because they are ( old ) GM, as some one who owns a TDI VW I wish VW was as quick to admit to fixing a problem.

  • avatar
    "scarey"

    It also indicates the Volt’s importance to the future of General Motors. Getting it right is a high-priority item. If they can get the per-unit cost down in a timely fashion with no mortal mistakes in the execution, the Volt drivetrain could mean the difference between survival and extinction. This is one time when the next big thing really COULD save the company. It is a BIG gamble.

    • 0 avatar
      gslippy

      The Voltec platform cannot save the company. More cars like the Cruze could, maybe.

      Increased sales volume of Volts is a dream at best, and battery costs are likely to remain flat for a long time. Why? The economies of scale don’t apply so well to lithium ion cells, and the increased demand for battery materials in the world will cause prices to rise, thus counteracting any benefit of higher sales volume.

      Right now, GM admits that every Volt loses money for the company. The government subsidy, if it ever goes away, will make it even harder to sell these $42k Chevy economy cars. There is internal struggle at GM to produce the Cadillac Converj, since it’s actually worse for green performance and price.

      The only reason the Volt exists is because the US government supported continuing the program for political reasons. While it is a technology wonder, its environmental impact is nil at best. At worst, it’s a dirtier car than today’s Prius, and a money loser for its maker.

      But on your earlier point, GM should get this one right since they’re so committed to the Volt.

      • 0 avatar
        Zackman

        @gslippy: Your entire post could also apply to Toyota years ago when they introduced the Prius. Things and development take time and GM has to start somewhere.

        I have no issue with what they’re doing and applaud them, and if I continue in my 100-mile-a-day commute long enough to wear out my Impala, I’ll be looking at other alternatives such as a Volt, Prius or other efficient vehicle. I hope it will be a Chevy, too…

      • 0 avatar
        jfbramfeld

        I’m no fan of subsidized electric cars, but it is incorrect to assume that increased use of lithium batteries will necessarily drive up their cost. If the market is allowed to operate, a big if, those costs will almost certainly go down. Something, say copper, gets valuable, people look for and find other sources and the price usually goes down. Look at electronics in general.

        This is even true of oil, given the chance.

      • 0 avatar
        Herm

        GM has never said they are losing money on the Volt, at most they have implied they are breaking even.. and the Volt is not an economy car but “near luxury”.. whatever that means. Actually a good lease deal due to the $7500 tax credit.

        There is no shortage of any components to make lithium cells.. the cheapest cells (1/3 the cost of the ones used in the Volt) are made in the billions for laptops. Those are the ones Tesla uses in their large battery packs.

        The job of the Volt and Leaf is to open up the market and bring down costs to reasonable levels, nothing more.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    I found it interesting that of 8000 Volts on the road, about 250 owners (~3%) took up GM’s offer for a loaner or buyback if they wanted. The fraction choosing buyback would be interesting.

    In any case, the 250 seems like a high number to me, when you consider that GM’s 2009 60-day money-back guarantee program only saw 1 car returned during Carmageddon. [Of course, customers had to ‘buy’ the guarantee by not taking a $500 cash incentive.]

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      Actually, it is high (3.125%).

      If you factor in that the Volt didn’t sell well from the gitgo then things look even more bleak for the future of Volt.

      Even the Leaf outsold the Volt and the Leaf doesn’t have an onboard AC generator to keep the battery charged and therefore instills range anxiety in its owners.

      People are not going to rush out and buy a Volt. They didn’t over the past year and it is highly unlikely that they will in the future.

      The people that buy a Volt are the people making at least $200K a year. That’s the demographic that GM is marketing to. Those people are the BMW, Mercedes, Audi and Lexus crowd.

      People who favor EVs buy a Prius Hybrid, or a Camry Hybrid, or a Fusion Hybrid, or even a Lincoln MKZ Hybrid before they buy a Volt.

      Joe Sixpack and Sally Homemaker don’t have enough money to make it to the end of the month. They’re lucky if they can afford to buy a stripper Cruze.

      The Volt, like Solyndra, may have been the cornerstone of Obama’s vision for America’s future, but the Volt, like the EV1, will also go the way of the Dodo bird. Pull the plug sooner rather than later.

      If you divide the cost of GM’s bail out by the number of Volts sold you come up with a really staggering number. And that is exactly what this boils down to. The Volt was supposed to be the big comeback for GM. It wasn’t, and it will never be.

      • 0 avatar
        benzaholic

        @desertkitty
        WTF? Were you expecting GM to sell 50 bejillion Volts this year with profits of $10,000 each?

        The Volt is not intended to save General Motors NOW, it is intended to keep General Motors relevant 10 or 20 years from now.
        That’s how long it will take for primarily-electric vehicles to:
        – get any real market penetration
        – develop sufficient economies of scale
        – invent cheaper materials and methods for the batteries

        The Volt is key to GM’s longer term success. In a financial system so ridiculously driven by how your numbers look THIS QUARTER, seeing GM commit to this longer term, including the obvious costs associated with such a program, is what’s significant.

        They didn’t meet their FIRST YEAR sales targets, and people say that means the whole company is a failure? What a frikkin crock.

      • 0 avatar
        kenzter

        @Benz…well said.
        @kitty…the average income is $170k, not “at least $200k”. Thats not far from my households income, and I sure as hell would take the credit if I were in the market. If a credit was available for your new Jeep, wouldn’t you?

      • 0 avatar
        Steven02

        Do you have a list of sales numbers for the Camry Hybrid, Fusion, Hybrid, and Lincoln MKZ hybrid?

        I don’t know how much that these particular models sale, but here is a list of vehicles that the Volt is outselling.

        http://images.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/10/graph-48.png

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        benzaholic and kenzter, in case you guys missed it, GM is a documented failure. GM died in 2009 and was resurrected by Obama and we, the people. GM is currently on permanent life support. Any and all ‘profits’ are a paper shuffle. If GM really was making any money let’s see GM pay back the Treasury by buying back their own stock at $53+ a share.

        If you guys feel strongly about the future prospects of GM, maybe you should put your money where your mouth is. Buy a new GM product now, and, better yet, buy several blocks of new GM stock. Real money-maker there.

        Hey, I owned over 1500 shares of the old GM prior to 2007. I thank my lucky stars and Merrill-Lynch that I got out when the gettin’ was good. I was lucky – I had help in knowing when to hold’m, and when to fold’m.

        If you guys think that GM will be around in another 10 or 20 years, you are unrealistically optimistic, to put it mildly. GM quit being relevant decades ago when the mass exodus toward foreign cars was driven by the bad products put out by all the domestic manufacturers. Wishing and hoping things were otherwise doesn’t make it so.

        kenzter, I bought the Jeep Grand Cherokee for my wife. I have not driven it after driving it from the dealership to I-10 to make sure it was safe to drive, at which point she and I swapped cars and she drove it home, behind me in the Highlander.

        I wouldn’t buy a JGC for myself. It’s a ladies’ SUV. It was designed by women, for women. It’s got beautiful lines, styling and colors aimed at attracting successful women with money. The interior is fabulous, but feminine inspired. At least the Overland Summit two-tone interior is. But Jeep is attracting real men with the current SRT8 and the 2013 Diesel. They will succeed in selling a bunch of them in the future. Bet on it!

        And I would have bought the JGC or any other vehicle my wife wanted without regard to tax credits, rebates or incentives. As it turned out we got a fair deal on this 2012 JGC. We saved a little and the dealer made a little. She’s a happy camper. That’s all that matters.

        But on the subject of Jeeps: we are currently on vaca in Hawaii on the island of Maui, and we have a 20?? Jeep Wrangler Soft-top 4X4 as a rental for the month we’re here. I wouldn’t wish this calamity on anyone! It gets bogged down in beach sand – gutless wonder. Have to switch to LO-4X4 to get any traction in the sand.

        The bottom line on the Volt is that it is a loser. Maybe in 10 or 20 years it could have been a player, but GM doesn’t have 10 or 20 years, for the Volt to develop a following. GM is going to need another bail out, soon, and GM will get another bail out from Congress because the precedence was already set in 2009.

        GM will continue on the government teat just like Freddie and Fannie and the US Postal Service. That’s a given!

        The Prius has already sold more than a million Hybrids. Would anyone care to guess when Volt will sell its first million? I wouldn’t. It ain’t gonna happen.

      • 0 avatar
        Zapf

        highdesertcat sez:

        “The people that buy a Volt are the people making at least $200K a year.”

        Is that an average or median income? After all, it doesn’t take more than a few people with Jay Leno’s exchequer to skew the average.

        “People who favor EVs buy a Prius Hybrid, or a Camry Hybrid, or a Fusion Hybrid, or even a Lincoln MKZ Hybrid before they buy a Volt.”

        For us, these are rather boring cars. Even the Lexus CT200h was a bit of a snorer. We were happily surprised at how much fun the Volt was to drive. When we were shopping, the decision came down between the Volt and a Mazda3s Grand Touring.

        “If you divide the cost of GM’s bail out by the number of Volts sold you come up with a really staggering number. And that is exactly what this boils down to. The Volt was supposed to be the big comeback for GM. It wasn’t, and it will never be.”

        Don’t be silly. If I divided the bailout by the number of Corvettes or even Suburbans sold in 2011, I’d come up with a staggering number as well. While the Volt gets a disproportionate amount of attention, it was never meant to be GM’s bread and butter. Toyota still sells more Camrys and Corollas than Priuses.

        “GM is a documented failure.”

        By your standards, Toyota is also a documented failure. In 1950, it had a severe liquidity crisis, and had to be bailed out by the Japanese gov’t. I doubt they’ve since regretted their decision.

        “If you guys feel strongly about the future prospects of GM, maybe you should put your money where your mouth is. Buy a new GM product now[…]”

        We did. 2011 Volt. We like.

        “I bought the Jeep Grand Cherokee for my wife.”

        Made by Chrysler, another ‘documented failure.’ Riding to the rescue was Lee Iococca, and a then-massive loan guarantee from Uncle Sam in 1980. Of course, without the bailout then, we wouldn’t have had the K-car platform from which came the minivan, but that had no impact on the marketplace, right?

        “The bottom line on the Volt is that it is a loser.”

        Whether you’re writing about the quality of the car or the financials of plug-in hybrids, it’s truth by blatant assertion. Extensive writing about Mrs. Highdesertcat’s Jeep is interesting, but you didn’t get around to answering kenzter’s question if you would have taken a credit if available. Anyway, the Volt is not some Aveo with a bigger battery and a sewing machine motor, or even a gussied-up Cruze. The reviews in TTAC and most other sites have been good to ecstatic.

        “The Prius has already sold more than a million Hybrids. Would anyone care to guess when Volt will sell its first million? I wouldn’t. It ain’t gonna happen.”

        The Prius, in its first year in America, sold about 6000 units, less than the Volt. Sales of the early hybrids, of which the Prius was the most notable, were helped along by tax credits — the idea being reducing oil consumption and smog. Now hybrid technology is used by just about every car manufacturer. It would have happened eventually, but the tax credits got it going, economies of scale kicked in, and the credits are no longer needed. Surprise! It worked.

        It’s early in the game, but the Volt is A Good Car. Even with the tax credit, it’s pricey, but sales have been increasing month-by-month. Do I _know_ that the Volt, and the technology behind it will be successful in the long-term? Of course not, but there’s nothing you’ve written that tells me you know any better.

  • avatar
    Morea

    What is the composition of the cooling liquid?

    • 0 avatar
      Morea

      Answer is Dexcool:

      http://gm-volt.com/2010/12/09/the-chevrolet-volt-coolingheating-systems-explained/

    • 0 avatar
      Herm

      its regular antifreeze, ethylene glycol and water.. perhaps GM will have to develop a coolant with better properties for batteries.

      Good large images of the reinforcement plate and its installation here:

      http://www.greencarreports.com/news/1071348_chevrolet-to-offer-volt-modifications-against-battery-fire-risk

  • avatar
    Carlson Fan

    Good to see GM adressed this issue fairly quickly. It was pretty obvious that the liquid cooling for the battery was the issue. Glad to see they didn’t change that. In a few years I think everyone is gonna see how much better ther Volt is than the Leaf as far as longterm battery performance.

    I had a Volt in my garage for 2 days last fall and absolutely loved it. GM needs to give the Volt a minnimum of 2-3 years on dealer lots. Improvements in the vehicle performance & cost reduction combined with risng gas prices all need to happen to give the Volt a fair shake.

    • 0 avatar
      gslippy

      Adjusted for inflation, US gasoline prices are the same now as in 1979. The F-150 has been the best-selling vehicle for most of those years, not to mention that a host of popular gas-guzzling SUVs have arisen since then also.

      http://www.randomuseless.info/gasprice/gasprice.html

      So I’m not sure what market forces will occur to generate serious interest in a 4-seat economy car that costs twice as much as its competitors.

      As for the Volt vs Leaf argument, I’ve stated before that the Leaf’s simpler air-cooled system is superior for long-term reliability. And since the Leaf only has one ‘engine’, it will always be cheaper.

      • 0 avatar
        Steven02

        Let’s see how the battery of the Leaf is in 10 years of Texas heat vs what the Volt is. At that point, you will know which battery cooling system is better.

  • avatar
    Carlson Fan

    “As for the Volt vs Leaf argument, I’ve stated before that the Leaf’s simpler air-cooled system is superior for long-term reliability.”

    Your guessing that it is. If the Leaf’s current range drops 30-40% in 4-5 years and the Volt still has 95-98% of its range, you tell me how that’s superior. I’m not saying that it’s gonna play out that way, but the battery on the Volt is liquid cooled for a good reason. The Leaf also uses a higher percentage of its total battery capacity, something else that will hurt its range performance long term. I like the Leaf and I’m glad Nissan built it, but I don’t think it’s put together anywhere near as well as a Volt. It’s more on the Prius level as far as build quality, driving experience and standard options.

    • 0 avatar
      gslippy

      I will guess (again) that the Volt is liquid cooled because they had no other choice. The packaging constraints of a car with two engines are difficult, requiring a more expensive and complex liquid cooling system.

      There is no doubt that liquid cooling has some advantages, but I’ll bet GM’s engineers now wish they didn’t have it there.

      I’m a little confused by your comparison to the Prius quality. If you’re referring to the Leaf, that’s damning with high praise.

    • 0 avatar
      Herm

      We probably will know within the year how the Leaf is holding up, some will come up to 50k miles and should start showing some signs of battery degradation.

      Apparently Nissan developed a special battery chemistry that is not as delicate as LG’s chemistry.. superficially they are both lithium manganese spinel but there are different additives they can use. Also the Leaf’s battery is packaged in such a way as to expose a lot of the case to cooling air.. both the Volt and Focus bury their batteries inside the car with less area exposed to airflow. The Volt does this because it has to accommodate a fuel tank and an exhaust system, the Focus has to do it because its a conversion while the Leaf was designed from the ground up to be a BEV (but using parts from the Versa, the Frontier and the Sentra).

      Volt is different, GM has promised that as the battery ages more of the capacity that is held in reserve will be used to maintain the promised 40 miles of range.. Nissan allows you to use almost all the battery from day one and holds nothing in reserve. Obviously the degradation on the Leaf will be noticeable before the degradation of the Volt, and perhaps both are aging at the same rate.

  • avatar
    Mike Kelley

    What am I missing here? The Obama administration wants us to drive electric cars, but they want to greatly reduce the amount of electricity we produce and make it more costly:
    http://news.yahoo.com/epa-rule-force-shutdown-power-plants-165300911.html
    The consumer will pay, as usual.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      If it diminishes the quality of working Americans’ lives, Obama is in favor of it. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HlTxGHn4sH4 He said he’d find a way to make energy a luxury good and enough people still had some negative qualities that caused them to vote for him.


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