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GM announces battery fire fix for the Chevrolet Volt

This morning, General Motors announced the changes that will be made to the Chevrolet Volt electric vehicle battery coolant system in an effort to lower the risk of fires after severe accidents after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration opened a preliminary investigation into the design of the Volt’s battery system.

The Chevy Volt has easily met every crash safety test but the risk of fire was discovered after a Volt had been involved in a hard side-impact/rollover crash test and then left to sit for three weeks in an NHTSA holding lot. During that time, the cooling system for the battery leaked and overtime, it caused a short in the electrical system that caused a fairly intense fire. However, throughout the 2011 calendar year, Volt owners have racked up over 20,000,000 miles without any accidents that included the car catching on fire.

“The Volt has always been safe to drive. Now, we will go the extra mile to ensure our customers’ peace of mind in the days and weeks following a severe crash,” said Mary Barra, GM senior vice president of Global Product Development.

Even though there have been no real-world cases of a Chevy Volt catching fire, GM was quick to move on this problem and after just a few weeks of work, the American automaker has announced a handful of revisions to help prevent any future fires – even in the most extreme accidents.

There will be no recall issued for the 2011 or 2012 Chevy Volt but instead, the company is launching what they call a Customer Satisfaction Program during which they will make the new safety revisions to reduce the risk of fires in the future. Modifications to the Volt will begin by reinforcing the Volt’s safety structure to protect the battery and the cooling system in the event of a violent side impact. The initial concern that led to the fires was a hard side impact breaching the battery’s cooling system so this new reinforcement should make the Volt (which already exceeded all government requirements) a much safer car for side impacts. Next, GM will add a sensor in the battery coolant system reservoir to monitor coolant levels so in the event of an accident, it will be very easy to tell right away if the cooling system is leaking or not. Finally, GM will add a new tamper-resistant bracket to the battery coolant system reservoir to prevent owners from overfilling the coolant.

General Motors applied these new features to a handful of Chevy Volts and conducted four side impact crash tests – all of which were successful in protecting the battery’s cooling system. In these four tests that were similar to the tests conducted by the NHTSA which led to this whole investigation, GM engineers found no intrusion into the vital components of the battery pack nor did they find any leaks or damage to the cooling system.

“These enhancements and modifications will address the concerns raised by the severe crash tests,” Barra said. “There are no changes to the Volt battery pack or cell chemistry as a result of these actions. We have tested the Volt’s battery system for more than 285,000 hours, or 25 years, of operation. We’re as confident as ever that the cell design is among the safest on the market.”

Chevy Volt owners around the country will be individually notified as to when to bring their electric vehicle in to have these reinforcements applied. In addition to contacting already owned Volts, GM will upfit Volt models sitting on dealership lots around the country and when production resumes for the Volt later this month – all 2012 Chevy Volt EVs will come with these features already installed.

“We’re focused on one thing right now: doing what’s right by our customers,” said GM North America President Mark Reuss. “We’ll live up to our commitment to make sure our customers are delighted with their purchase.”

Luckily, many current Chevy Volt owners have been vocal around the internet about their lack of problems, which may have been what helped the Volt grow in sales volume over the past four months even though the car was coming under very public criticism. Now that GM has found the fix for this unlikely fire risk, things could continue to boom for GM, Chevy and the Volt as we head into the 2012 year.

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