GM's CEO Akerson wants to build 60,000 Volt's in 2012
With the controversy brewing about battery pack safety in the Volt, the folks who are stirring the controversy might believe that GM would stop producing the Volt. Instead in a recent interview GM's CEO Dan Akerson says the automaker plans to do the exact opposite, that they'll considerably ramp up Volt production after first addressing the issue behind the battery fire.
It would be sad if this were a case of folly, where the Volt was actually dangerous and GM was bravely soldiering on anyway but selling us dangerous cars. Instead the situation GM faces is one in which the facts say the car is safe, with a flaw the engineers are working to address, and a customer base who is rallying around the Volt.
In an interview published on Sunday in the Detroit Free Press, Akerson called the Volt "safe," pointing out the fires observed so far have occurred only in testing, many days after simulated crashes. He went on to say it's in the best interest of all that "it's better to get it right now," that is fix the issue now, rather than "when you have 6,000 -- instead of 60,000 or 600,000 -- cars on the road." The cost will be lower now to fix the issue (e.g. via a recall) with relatively small number of Volt's on the road (6000 or so have been sold) rather than fixing it in a year or two when there are tens or hundreds of thousands of Volt's on the road.
Talking about the three fires observed so far Akerson said "We're not the only car company that has liquid-cooled batteries out there." Those fires, which were observed only in NHTSA simulated crashes, are thought to have occurred because of coolant leakage in damaged battery packs. Some EV automakers (notably Coda, Ford and GM) have active cooling systems that are meant to keep batteries within reasonable operating temperatures, because batteries can get hot during charging and during use. Nissan relies on passive cooling, that is air flow, rather than active cooling with a liquid coolant. Ford's representatives say "We still have limited information about the cause of the Volt fires in the government crash tests, so it is difficult to comment on how they relate to Ford’s electrification program," and that they will continue "to work with the NHTSA as we prepare to launch our electrified vehicles over the next year.”
If GM is able to increase Volt production to 60,000 in 2012 it will be a faster ramp-up rate than the Toyota Prius, which did not really take off until the Gen II Prius was launched. Would the adoption of EV's be faster, or slower, than the adoption of hybrid cars a decade ago?
Whether GM is foolish, or wise, to increase Volt production depends on how the concern over the fires plays out.
- Is the Volt safe? Depends on who you ask, according to Frank Beckmann in an editorial published last week in the Detroit News. That article laid out a sound case that the controversy is over-hyped, and would everyone please stop hyper-ventilating? Namely that the investigation is still underway, the cause hasn't been determined for certain, it might not even be due to leaking coolant, the fires occurred only following "extreme NHTSA tests," the fires took several days to ignite, and that perhaps the scenario is impossible to replicate in real-world driving.
- And what of the Volt owners? If this were an unsafe car wouldn't they be up in arms against GM? Instead they're generally rallying around the Volt, as evidenced by the open letter published a couple weeks ago (Chevy Volt owners to GM: We're Keeping our Cars & Keys).
GM's automotive engineers are some of the best in the world, and the NHTSA is one of the best safety agencies in the world. The automakers and the NHTSA routinely handle safety defects in automobiles and trucks, conducting recalls when necessary. We have over 200,000 car fires a year with very little controversy. It seems reasonable on GM's part to expect that this issue will be resolved shortly, they'll run through some process like a recall to fix whatever cause is identified, and that it's a reasonable move to proceed with ramping up Volt production.