The Truth About Cars » Investigation http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Fri, 18 Apr 2014 22:58:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Investigation http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com Volt And Consequences: GM Responds To NHTSA Volt Investigation http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/11/volt-and-consequences-gm-responds-to-nhtsa-volt-investigation/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/11/volt-and-consequences-gm-responds-to-nhtsa-volt-investigation/#comments Tue, 29 Nov 2011 17:25:23 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=420395

With NHTSA opening a formal defect investigation into the Chevy Volt, GM is moving to defend its rolling lightning rod (no pun intended) and allay consumer fears about its safety. Yesterday I briefly appeared on Fox Business’s Your World With Neil Cavuto show to talk about what the intro to my segment referred to as “the hybrid from hell” and the “killer in your garage.” I tried to explain that the danger to consumers was basically nil, and that the real concern is for rescue, towing and salvage workers. And I would have explained why NHTSA’s tests still leave some serious questions open, but my “fair and balanced” approach meant that my segment ended up being extremely short. So let’s take the opportunity now to look past the hysteria and pinpoint the real issues with NHTSA’s investigation into the Volt.

A recent GM press release on the issue was accompanied by a conference call to reporters [transcript in .doc format here], in which GM’s top product executives, North American President Mark Reuss and Product Development Boss Mary Barra, gave GM’s perspective on the flap. But in a key passage, Barra confirmed that the most reasonable criticism of GM is essentially legitimate, as she confirmed that GM had not fully developed post-crash safety procedures before putting the Volt on the market.

Three weeks after the [initial NHTSA side-pole] test, the Volt caught fire.  This vehicle crash test was conducted before GM had finalized its battery depowering procedure.  We have learned that significant electrical charge, or energy, was left in the battery after the test.  When electrical energy is left in a battery after a severe crash it can be similar to leaving gasoline in a leaking fuel tank after severe damage.  It’s important to drain the energy from the battery after a crash that compromises the battery’s integrity – or you risk potential fire.

That’s why we have developed a process to depower the Volt’s battery after a severe crash.  We have been using the protocol since July of this year and we have now shared this process with the NHTSA and are working to extend this process and the needed equipment to those who handle or store vehicles after a severe crash.

Unable to deny that it should have had post-crash protocols in place before launching its first lithium-ion battery-powered car, GM seems to be trying to broaden the issue to extend beyond the Volt. Said Barra

But I also have to put this into the proper perspective:  Battery safety isn’t just a Volt issue. This is an issue we’re already working within the industry.  In fact, we are currently leading a joint electric vehicle activity with the Society of Automotive Engineers and other automotive companies to address new issues such as a process and protocol for depowering batteries.

The problem is, this does appear to be a Volt issue. Between the Nissan Leafs already on the road and the Prius Plugins that Toyota has been testing for years now, there are no documented thermal events that I’m aware of. Furthermore, the loss of battery integrity that the Volt experiences in side impacts seems to be caused by the lack of a steel battery case, which Nissan fits to its Leafs. Though it’s not clear what post-crash procedures Nissan has proliferated, it seems that its decision to protect its batteries with steel casings maintains battery integrity in government crash testing, eliminating the risks seen in the Volt.

Meanwhile, there is one question that nags at me. In the wake of the June fire at a NHTSA facility, GM shared its post-crash safety protocols. But the latest Volt fire, which happened a week after NHTSA, DOE, DOD and GM engineers test-ruptured a Volt battery, ”sparked a fire of a wooden structure” at the DOD’s Hampton Roads facility. Here’s what’s not clear: whether that battery pack was subjected to GM’s post-crash protocols. If it was, this fire proves that GM doesn’t have a handle on this problem, and that its safety procedures are insufficient. If the post-crash protocols were not followed, NHTSA, DOE and DOD were incredibly stupid to store a battery pack they knew might catch fire in a wooden building. Furthermore, GM’s communications team has yet to clarify whether this latest fire was caused because safety procedures were not followed intentionally. One way or another, this needs to be clarified, even if it makes the government testers look foolish.

Based on GM’s reaction, deploying top executives, offering loaner cars, and vigorously defending the Volt in the press, it’s clear that The General takes this situation incredibly seriously… which is why I’m a little shocked that it hasn’t cleared up the circumstances of the most recent fire. After all, the Volt is easily the most controversial car in America, and based on my experience on Cavuto yesterday, it’s clear that many hope to use this investigation as the final nail in its coffin. But there is still much we don’t know about these thermal events, and what we do know indicates that they are not an immediate danger to owners and drivers.

So where is the danger? Clearly to the afore-mentioned rescue, salvage and towing workers… but also to the Volt’s sales. The Volt already has marketing challenges based on its price and association with the bailout. Even the hint of a fire risk is going to add the Volt’s sales headwind, making it even tougher to meet its goal of selling 45,000 units in the US next year. Meanwhile, the White House’s goal of putting 120k Volts on the road next year is pushed even further out of reach.

In short, this does not appear to be the death blow that Volt-bashers were hoping for, and GM appears to be handling the situation as well as can be expected. But this incident does highlight the downsides to pioneering new technologies, and shows how just one overlooked detail can create huge PR issues.

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NHTSA Triggers “Thermal Events” In Volt Batteries, Opens Formal Investigation http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/11/nhtsa-triggers-thermal-events-in-volt-batteries-opens-formal-investigation/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/11/nhtsa-triggers-thermal-events-in-volt-batteries-opens-formal-investigation/#comments Fri, 25 Nov 2011 22:48:42 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=420060

NHTSA has has opened a formal defect investigation into the Chevrolet Volt, on the grounds that

 Intrusion in a crash may damage the battery, which may result in a substantial thermal reaction and fire

We knew that NHTSA was already looking in to this type of defect after an earlier test incident, but the official investigation resume [PDF] lists three separate thermal events that have occurred as a result of NHTSA tests. Hit the jump for the official explanation of this sequence of events.

On May 12, 2011, NHTSA performed a NCAP side pole impact test, followed by a post impact rollover test on a Chevrolet Volt. In connection with that testing, NHTSA has identified the potential for intrusion damage to the battery
which may result in a substantial thermal reaction and fire. Twenty-one days after the May 12, 2011 testing, delayed thermal heating and pressure release resulted in a fire that consumed the Chevrolet Volt and three other vehicles in close proximity at the test facility.

During the week of November 14, 2011, NHTSA performed follow-up battery-level tests to simulate the incident. NHTSA performed three tests simulating the mechanical damage to a battery pack observed from the first incident. Two of the three tests produced thermal events, including fire. Because of these test results, NHTSA has opened this investigation to examine the potential risks involved from intrusion damage to the battery in the Chevrolet Volt, in coordination with the agency’s ongoing review of the emerging technology involved in electric vehicle

A more extensive NHTSA press release notes

NHTSA is not aware of any roadway crashes that have resulted in battery-related fires in Chevy Volts or other vehicles powered by lithium-ion batteries. However, the agency is concerned that damage to the Volt’s batteries as part of three tests that are explicitly designed to replicate real-world crash scenarios have resulted in fire. NHTSA is therefore opening a safety defect investigation of Chevy Volts, which could experience a battery-related fire following a crash. Chevy Volt owners whose vehicles have not been in a serious crash do not have reason for concern.

GM’s response [via Phil Lebeau/Twitter]:

The Volt is safe & doesn’t present undue risk as part of normal operation, right after a severe crash.

This is the defense that GM has been using throughout this NHTSA/Volt fire investigation, and to some extent it bears a lot of similarity to Toyota’s defense against the test results trumpeted by Professor David Gilbert. The argument is that the investigator is creating defects through conditions that would not exist in normal use. The problem with GM’s position is that the safety protocols it wants NHTSA to follow in order to not prevent these kinds of fires apparently haven’t been circulated. As GM’s spokesman put it last week

We had a process [for draining the battery] internally but I don’t believe it was shared with anyone. The incident with NHTSA raised awareness that we had to develop a procedure and alert all stakeholders.

And based on the fact that NHTSA’s press release on this defect investigation lists the agency’s tips for post-crash safety procedures for plug-in vehicles, it seems that this is its major concern. What’s strange is that GM made quite the fuss about its Volt first responder training (see video at top) when the car was launched. That this issue, and the necessary safety protocol response to it, seemed to slip through the cracks when that program was developed is not encouraging.

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Inspired By Quadrangle Scandal, Republicans Call For Investigation Into Rattner’s Delphi Dealings http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/04/inspired-by-quadrangle-scandal-republicans-call-for-investigation-into-rattners-delphi-dealings/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/04/inspired-by-quadrangle-scandal-republicans-call-for-investigation-into-rattners-delphi-dealings/#comments Fri, 30 Apr 2010 01:14:05 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=354782

When former auto task force boss Steve Rattner’s former firm Quadrangle recently settled a “pay-to-play” corruption investigation, it threw Rattner under the bus, saying:

We wholly disavow the conduct engaged in by Steve Rattner, who hired the New York State Comptroller’s political consultant, Hank Morris, to arrange an investment from the New York State Common Retirement Fund. It is our understanding that Mr. Rattner also arranged a DVD distribution deal for a movie produced by the Chief Investment Officer’s brother in the middle of the investment decision-making process. That conduct was inappropriate, wrong, and unethical. Mr. Rattner is no longer with the firm and is not a part of today’s settlement. Quadrangle will fully cooperate in the Attorney General’s ongoing investigation of Mr. Rattner and others.

According to the DetN, that stinging indictment by Rattner’s former firm has inspired House Republicans to call for an investigation into whether Rattner was behind a deal in which some Delphi retirees lost their pensions while others didn’t.

A letter from Reps Mike Rogers (R-MI) and Christopher Lee (R-NY) to the House Oversight Committee argues that the investigation of Rattner:

[calls] into question the integrity and objectivity of Mr. Rattner’s panel, particularly the decision to allow some Delphi Corp. retirees, including many salaried retirees, to lose their pension benefits through the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation while simultaneously protecting the benefits of other Delphi retirees.

However, that deal hardly needs a lot of in-depth investigation to get to the bottom of. As The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel explains, GM agreed to “top off” UAW pensions when it spun Delphi off in 1999. However:

The salaried retirees had no such agreement – and, it turns out, neither did employees who belonged to some other unions, including the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, and the International Union of Operating Engineers.

When Delphi dropped those pensions on the PBGC, the 70,000 non-UAW retirees saw their benefits drop by $800m. And why would Steve Rattner have changed any of that? Rogers and Lee are trying to investigate a sin of omission rather than a sin of commission. The original sin in the sad story of Delphi was GM and the UAWs… all Rattner had to do was not fix it.

We sympathize when Rogers says:

It was completely unfair how they were treated… We need to ask some really hard questions about how this happened.

But just because Rattner screwed up at Quadrangle doesn’t prove anything about Delphi. That situation was screwed up long before Steve Rattner arrived.

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Quote Of The Day: What Clunker Fraud? Edition http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/01/quote-of-the-day-what-clunker-fraud-edition/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/01/quote-of-the-day-what-clunker-fraud-edition/#comments Wed, 06 Jan 2010 23:42:37 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=340962

Cash for Clunkers was set up very quickly, and there hasn’t been an accounting of the administrative costs of the program. There also hasn’t been publicly available information about how contractors were picked to process the thousands of transactions that the program generated… My concern is the waste, fraud and abuse that may have resulted from the vulnerabilities that can come with such a quick start.

Senator Chuck Grassley sticks it to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, in a letter requesting a full accounting of the cash for clunker program. The DOT was all over fraudulent commercial practices during C4C, but this is the first investigation into possible fraud or overruns on the administration side. Why Grassley waited until now to look into this doesn’t exactly compute, but it will still be interesting to see the results of the audit. After all, could it even be possible that the government spent $3b in a matter of weeks on a consumer incentive without fraud of some kind taking place?

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