By on November 30, 2011

TTAC has received the following protocol, developed by GM in the wake of the June Volt fire at a NHTSA facility in Wisconsin, from a GM source and has confirmed its legitimacy with a second GM source. Though the procedure may be refined based on the findings of NHTSA’s latest round of tests, it gives a good picture of what GM currently does to ensure the safety of Volt driver and passengers as well as rescue workers, towing company workers and salvage yards. And, I have to say, it puts some of my fears about this safety scare to rest. It hadn’t occurred to me that GM’s Onstar system could provide opportunities to respond to crashes in real time, and apparently the system provides a wide variety of data with which GM’s “corporate SWAT team” can tailor its response to any Volt crash event. Hit the jump for the full procedure.

  • Chevy Volt sends Onstar message of just occurred crash event.
  • Onstar team notified of Volt crash and immediately implements standard crash protocol to assist vehicle operator
  • Onstar immediately pulls key crash criteria from crash notification, i.e. vehicle speed, vehicles conditions (rollover), etc
  • Onstar team notifies Volt Battery Team Leader of crash event including key vehicle conditions
  • Volt Battery team leader works with Onstar to ping Volt and check additional data if appropriate (higher severity crash events, battery data, etc)
  • Volt Battery team Leader determines if high crash severity standards met for depowering or if there is any question about battery severity level.  If yes to either, Battery team representative is sent to crash site
  • Volt Battery team works with Volt advisor to contact Vehicle Owner and/or determine vehicle location
  • Volt Battery representative obtains approval from owner and then proceeds to investigate the crashed Volt and depowers battery if deemed necessary
  • Post Crash Volt stable and ready for disposition
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50 Comments on “This Is The Chevy Volt’s Post-Crash Safety Protocol...”

  • avatar

    This is not anti-GM snarkiness speaking, but the truth is that I am probably not interested in owning a car which requires a wireless data connection and manufacturer strike team in order to deal with the results of a collision. If nothing else, that level of support sounds expensive.

  • avatar

    So did NHSTA contrive Volt post crash or are they not including the whole picture for the crash event, Onstar and all?

    • 0 avatar

      The last round of NHTSA tests (Nov 16,17,18) did not follow this safety protocol. They were component tests of the battery, not whole-car crash tests. Battery integrity was intentionally breached and then the battery was monitored. Apparently NHTSA housed the Thanksgiving fire battery in a wooden structure that it built to simulate conditions similar to being mounted in the car… and the structure burnt when the battery caught fire. Pretty amateurish of NHTSA if you ask me, but not the indictment of the safety protocols that I thought might be possible before I knew exactly what these protocols are.

      • 0 avatar

        Was the wooden structure test intentional, i.e., trying to simulate a typical garage to see if a battery thermal event, unshielded by vehicle, would ignite the structure?

  • avatar

    And for people who DON’T want a corporate Big Brother tracking their every move?…

    The whole thing seems ridiculously unworkable in the real world. “Battery team representative is sent to crash site”? Really? GM is going to place a battery specialist team member in every first-responder organization?

    • 0 avatar

      One GM source tells me that this is why they’re “almost glad” this came to their attention when there were still so few Volts on the road. Meanwhile, they only send responders to crashes where Onstar data suggests that the crash severity could be enough to potentially create a thermal event.

      But you raise a good point: clearly GM can’t keep this up forever… remember, the White House wants 500k+ Volts on the road by 2015. It seems to me that when volume hits a certain point, GM will have to look for some other, less-expensive solution. Or retrofit Volts with crash protection that can maintain battery integrity in all crash conditions… Mary Barra has said that GM is

      “continuing to work with NHTSA to investigate additional actions to reduce or eliminate the potential of a post-crash electrical fire.”

      I think some kind of update on the battery integrity front is inevitable, but we shall see…

      • 0 avatar

        “the White House wants 500k+ Volts on the road by 2015.” I guess that’s the same White House whose occupant was going to stem the rise of the oceans. I will be surprised if there are a tenth that many Volts on the road by 2015.

    • 0 avatar

      OnStar relies on the CDMA phone network. I do a lot of travelling in remote areas where there is no cell coverage – so this solution wouldn’t work for me all the time.

      It’s also possible that the OnStar module could get damaged in a crash.

      That said, it sounds like the batteries don’t exactly burst into flames immediately, so there is time to deal with them. I’m reasonably confident that this problem will be sorted out soon, it doesn’t just affect the Volt – the same problem could apply to any EV or hybrid so there is plenty of incentive to sort this out.

  • avatar

    Just can’t picture battery team reps in every corner of America to get to a crash scene within minutes 24 hrs a day. Can’t just close a street or fwy for hrs or the day plus tie up fire crews/police.

  • avatar

    Mind you, the NHTSA debacle happened 3 *weeks* after not following protocol. We’re not talking exploding Pintos here. I don’t think that GM has teams of BTR’s standing by 24/7 just case of an accident. Getting there within 24 hrs sounds like it will do the deed just fine.

    • 0 avatar

      Exactly, who says they need to respond in minutes. It is expensive but when dealing with only a few thousand vehicles and having to met a certain severity level of damage then it is workable. As Ed says not doable in the long term, but then with new technology practices get refined over time. It is called progress.

  • avatar

    TTAC has been carrying GM’s water through this whole Volt debacle. If it were electric Saabs that were bursting into flames – Ed and Bertel would be having a field day.

    A car that taxpayers pay people $7,500 to purchase should not be above scrutiny.

    • 0 avatar
      Dr. Kenneth Noisewater


    • 0 avatar

      No one is paying anyone $7500 to buy this car…

      This IS a Republican tax rebate. Same as the one you get on the interest when you buy a house, or you get if you have kids, or if you own a private jet. TTAC has not been holding anyones water with this car… TTAC has been chucking this car under the bus every chance that they can get… Anyone want to bet at what the sales levels were last month? Still think they are demand limited?

      • 0 avatar

        So what you’re saying is that even though you pay $7,500 less in taxes after buying a Volt, taxpayers are not subsidizing your purchase?

      • 0 avatar

        NO! You are incorrect. Get the facts about the credit correct before you write.

      • 0 avatar

        jhott – I apologize for my ignorance. You’ll need to explain the tax credit in terms I can understand.

      • 0 avatar

        It’s a tax credit, so you get to take $7500 off your total tax bill. Which means the government is getting $7500 less in taxes for each Volt sold (as long as the purchaser owes more than $7500 in taxes). Be it republican or democrat, that sounds like a government subsidy/incentive to buy the car, and a corresponding loss of revenue to the govt (read: everyone who pays taxes). Call it what you like, but the government is underwriting part of the cars purchase, so yeah, everyone has an interest in it. I wonder if dealers are still ‘selling’ cars to each other to take the credit, then selling the cars as used?

      • 0 avatar

        There is 7500 dollars less available for free government stuff when a Volt gets sold. That’s 7500 dollars I get to pay instead.
        How about people with the means to spend 40K on a battery powered car spend 48K instead because it’s such a great car?

      • 0 avatar

        The Volt qualifies for a tax CREDIT, which is a dollar for dollar reduction in your actual tax, if you buy the Volt, and qualify, you get back a $7500 check. Mortgage interest, children, etc are DEDUCTIONS, ie: they reduce your taxable income, they are not as valuable as credits, since you save a percentage based on your tax rate. Business jets would be expensed as business assets, they’re not a CREDIT either (not going to go into all the variables). If the $7500 on a Volt purchase was a deduction, and you were in a 25% tax bracket, you would save $1875 on your taxes, so the Volt is entirely different from mortgage interest, and other deductions. As long as you owe over $7500 in taxes, the govt is paying you $7500 to buy a Volt.

    • 0 avatar

      +1. Interesting how the tone has changed on TTAC since I began seeing GM ads pop up……

  • avatar

    Good article!
    Nice to see a car manufacturer so involved in the real world engineering events of a vehicle. Too bad Porsche didn’t put this much thought in the engineering and follow through of the Boxter Engine.
    The pro-con Volt/Gm bashing is getting old and boring.
    If you don’t want to buy a volt ….don’t buy it.but don’t bash a company that’s trying to get it right.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s Boxster.
      Just sayin’.
      Ever own a “Boxter”? Let alone one where the engine failed?

      Oh, and GM is NOT trying to get it right. They are in CYA mode. The chance for them to “get it right” occurred many years ago…….

  • avatar

    The Volt is turning into GMs Edsel, they have a poor track record of using their customers as beta testers.

    Meanwhile Toyonda continue to refine their hybrids and Nissan is going full speed ahead with a Pure EV.

  • avatar

    Please tell me that none of these steps will delay the first responders who are removing my bleeding butt from a wrecked Volt? And that no volunteer fireman in some remote burg won’t be waiting on the line, Jaws of Life at the ready, for a call from big brother Onstar? In any other car, I don’t need to worry about that…

    • 0 avatar

      You’re only going to have to worry if you insist on staying in your wrecked Volt 24/7 for about three weeks after the crash. At which point, it’s time to wonder if you don’t have anything better to do with your life.

  • avatar

    That bullet-point list of “safety protocol procedures” reads like a typical wet-dream, pie-in-the-sky, brain-fart that comes out of the conference-committee type meetings that are daily standards for any GM engineer, EGM or Director. As an institution, GM is incapable of making critical decisions and as a result statements like “If yes to either, Battery team representative is sent to crash site”. The solutions become “shot-gun” approaches where ALL considerations/constraints are attempted to be accounted for. The result is typically too heavy, too expensive, too complicated.
    Whatever group devised that list knows full well that in reality an engineer can’t be sent to the crash site yet they write it down anyway, nod-their collective heads and pat themselves on the back for a job well done; the details of the statement be damned! If the “battery team representative” is not an engineer then what is the point of sending a person to the crash site? Is GM really going to have a group of engineers who are on-call 24/7 in case some electrified Volt crashes and Mary Barra decrees that a “first responder” go to the crash, immediately. How does that person get to the crash? ZL1 camaro? It is just plain silly. If they don’t recognize the silliness then they are dumber than even I thought. If they recognize the silliness yet say publish it anyway then they are, well, you can finish the sentence…

    Finally, having spent some time in that toxic environment I simply don’t believe that ANY data gets from the On-Star people to the engineers in the trenches. Those engineers are the people who have the knowledge to make a decision. My experience is that very little, if any, costumer data gets back to the product engineers. The entire plan falls on its face at bullet 4. Just the way it is inside GM.

    For those who think I overreact. I submit you have NEVER been inside GM or experienced the toxic culture of “yes-men” that exists.

  • avatar

    This protocol doesn’t pass the sniff test for me.

    A basic concept of safety is that of barriers. Each barrier prevents certain (bad) events from occurring, but no barrier is perfect, so multiple barriers of various types are used so that they cover all the holes (i.e., events that get past one barrier are blocked by another). I don’t see adequate barriers in this protocol.

    – It seems they are relying entirely on OnStar (no multiple layers) for initiation of the protocol. I can think of many scenarios where the OnStar system will not be effective. They need multiple triggers to start the protocol process.
    – There is no procedure for non-GM workers to evaluate the situation and act accordingly. It assumes that GM will handle all accident cases themselves; that is unrealistic if not impossible. A flowchart needs to be provided to relevant groups so they can decommission batteries as necessary independent of GM.
    – The protocol implies significant time lapses (note the need to ping the vehicle to identify location). The protocol assumes that incidents will not occur during these delays, but for example, no one knows if an event can occur only a week after an accident instead of three weeks. Also, they lose control of the car/situation during these time lapses; there’s no telling what compounding problems can occur during such uncontrolled times.

    That’s just my first-glance reaction, and I’m sure a real HSE guy can find more faults. IMO, it looks like GM simply cobbled together an outline using existing parts–they have OnStar, so they just plugged it in. If my company delivered something like this to one of our customers, it would have been rejected.

  • avatar

    well since were focusing on post crash ev info where’s the Leaf’s or the Prius post crash? Can we get a comparison? OH I thoughtI’d share this info as well: At least GM is commited to saving those batteries.

  • avatar

    it gives a good picture of what GM currently does to ensure the safety of Volt driver and passengers as well as rescue workers, towing company workers and salvage yards. And, I have to say, it puts some of my fears about this safety scare to rest.

    I don’t think that it should. These protocols are not only unrealistic, but they seem to be motivated by damage control, rather than addressing relevant issues.

    This shouldn’t be that difficult. GM should work with first responders and wrecking yards so that they know how to deal with Volts that have crashed. If the battery pack needs to be drained after a crash, then GM should be showing the wreckers how to do it.

    In the meantime, GM should work with NHTSA (which it already seems to be doing) to pinpoint the cause of the one fire as quickly as possible. That one fire (and there was only one) may point to a need for some sort of recall or TSB, or it may not.

    Sending out the troops every time that there is a crash makes it sound as if the Volt is one big beta test, with every major accident prompting a corporate response centered on avoiding liability to the company. If all of this post-crash drama was really necessary, then they should known this before they started selling them.

  • avatar

    Any stored energy source being breached has the potential for fire.
    What is worse, a gasoline fire or a battery fire? Which is more toxic? Which spreads faster?

    What are stats, do EV’s proportionally have more fires than non EV’s?

    Over time I think emergency responders will deal with a lot of battery issues since they are getting bigger and used in more things.
    Cellphones, laptops, Segways, golf carts, automated mail carts, and cars.

    If there is concern about the GM Volt, then what about the Nissan Leaf and Tesla, surely they have more battery in proportion to the vehicle size/mass.

    All things to think about.

    • 0 avatar

      If there is concern about the GM Volt, then what about the Nissan Leaf and Tesla, surely they have more battery in proportion to the vehicle size/mass.

      The Leaf’s battery is steel encased and it survived the same test without a problem.

      What is worse, a gasoline fire or a battery fire? Which is more toxic? Which spreads faster?

      The best information sources on battery safety are the safety data sheets from battery manufacturers like A123 Systems and the DOE. Read those documents and make your own decision.

      • 0 avatar

        IIRC, the Tesla has 6800 cells and may or may not be more forgiving of a few of them lighting off. Has NTHSA done similar tests on a Tesla?

        A good size battery stores the energy equivalent of a gallon or two of gas. What’s worse, an air-gas vapor fire or a battery fire? Well, the MOAB bomb is a thermobaric device – nobody tosses batteries at the enemy. Yet.

    • 0 avatar
      DC Bruce

      Standard procedure for any first responder in a car crash is that the response team includes a fire truck, and the fire truck washes any gasoline spilled on the pavement, diluting it sufficiently to eliminate the potential for fire.

      Fire requires both fuel and a heat source for ignition. Given that most modern liquid fueled vehicles separate the fuel tank from the hot parts (engine, catalytic converters) by a substantial fraction of the length of the vehicle, the potential for fuel + heat to combine to make a fire is reduced. Also, with all liquid fueled vehicles now having electrically-powered fuel pumps in the tank that are switched off in an impact, the fuel line out of the tank will not be pressurized in a crash. So, there is a very small amount of fuel present outside of the tank. Only a fuel tank rupture would release significant amounts of fuel and create a fire risk.

      The apparent problem with some of these batteries (unlike lead-acid batteries with which everyone has lots of experience) is that they both contain the fuel source (the lithium) and the heat source (the battery itself, if it is supplying high amps because of an internal short). The second problem is that the physical size of the battery required of a plug-in hybrid (like the Volt) or a true EV (like the Leaf) makes it impossible to confine it to the most protected area of the vehicle in a crash (unlike a liquid fuel tank which is much smaller).

      However, it seems like this test experience — where the battery ignites days after it has been damaged — is very unlikely to injure the car’s driver/passengers immediately after a crash. So, the “special handling” that the vehicle requires appears to be after it has been removed from the crash scene and is in storage somewhere . . . and “helicoptering in” a GM engineering SWAT team to the crash site is unnecessary as is needing the first responders to set up a communications link with GM engineers from the crash site before they do anything.

      I don’t see any of this as the major problem with the Volt. The major problem I see with the Volt is whether its extended electric range, compared to the Prius, Fusion hybrid or similar cars, in any way justifies the substantial purchase price premium over those cars. I think there may be a fairly narrow user profile for whom the extra cost over a “conventional” hybrid, like those cars, is justified. That would be people whose typical use patterns are within the electric power range of the vehicle. How many folks like that are out there?

      And presumably, each of those other hybrid cars has a sufficient “gee-whiz” or “I care about the Earth” factor to attract buyers for whom those are important considerations.

  • avatar

    the real accident, by definition, was buying one of these foolish things to begin with. I have refused to sell one on more than one occasion. hey, even us car salesmen have principles.

  • avatar

    And the Volt wins CRs customer satisfaction survey. Hate it all you want Buickman, the owners love it.
    Oh that’s right the customer is always wrong, right?

  • avatar

    European car journalists seem to praise the European version (Opel Ampera) for being a bright idea, with it’s range extender, and that it drives better than most EV or hybrid cars. On the other hand, I think most European car journalist haven’t grown up with American car manufacturers so they may not be able to grasp the sheer extend of GM’s uselessness in the past…. Odds are 50/50 if it’s a great little car or a time bomb…
    Now, tell me once again why they can’t make the side-windows as big as they were obviously trying? or is it a nostalgic hint back to Mercury’s of the 50’s ?

    • 0 avatar

      I understand your point about American manufacturers and their checkered 50 year past. But European journalists (and the buying public) have had American owned brands – Opel/Vauxhall and Ford – to buy from in that time.

      • 0 avatar

        Yes, that’s true, but it’s still miles away from the cars sold in the US. I can’t think of any example from the top of my head when any of the reasonably good Euro GM or Fords have made a decent transition to the American market, or been sold successfully on both sides of the Atlantic.
        Not to mention the fact that in Europe Ford and GM has had large market shares of compact and smaller cars over the years, while at the same time having refused to even try making a compact. (or even a mid-size by European standards)

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