Chevy Volt fire: What did NHTSA know and when did they know it?
On Wednesday this week the House Oversight Committee will take up the question, "Volt Vehicle Fire: What did NHTSA Know and When Did They Know It?" Among the speakers will be NHTSA Administrator David Strickland and GM CEO Dan Akerson. Conveniently the NHTSA closed their investigation last week and released a document about the fire incident answering questions about the timing of the investigation into the Chevy Volt fire.
The crash testing of interest came as part of NHTSA's New Car Assessment Program (NCAP) under the agencies policy of testing vehicles with "new technology". For 2011 they were especially interested in electrified vehicles with lithium-ion batteries, like the Chevy Volt. The program consists of frontal, side, electrical isolation and rollover tests. The post-crash rollover test is intended to test for leakage of electrolyte from battery powered vehicles, or fuel spillage from gasoline or diesel vehicles.
Between April 20 and May 12, 2011, Chevy Volt crash testing occurred at the site of an NHTSA contractor, MGA Research. Based on its performance in that test the NHTSA awarded the five-star NCAP crashworthiness rating. After the crash test the Volt was moved to a storage lot. This much we knew already, it's starting from this point that the NHTSA report begins to fill in details in the timeline.
The NHTSA report lists four crash tests in the April 20-May 12 period. Three were side impact tests, two of which caused intrusion into the battery pack, and it was the test on May 12 which caused battery coolant leakage.