NHTSA approves of GM's Volt battery fix, expects to end investigation "real soon now"
Last week GM unveiled plans for fixing the identified problem which caused the fire in a crash tested Chevy Volt last summer. In an interview over the weekend at the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit, National Highway Traffic Safety Administrator David Strickland made it clear they approve of the fix, that the NHTSA believes GM "put customers first," and that NHTSA plans to conclude its investigation soon without specifying the actual length of time.
Last week GM and NHTSA jointly released press releases describing the planned fix. GM's plan is to strengthen the Volt battery pack to prevent side impact collisions from breaking into the battery pack, as well as adding safeguards against battery pack coolant overflows. In both GM's and NHTSA's statements last week the preliminary results of the investigation show that, "it appears that both battery intrusion and coolant leakage must be present to enable post-crash fire in the Volt." By "battery intrusion" they mean that frame members in the car must break into the battery pack, causing damage to the stuff inside the battery pack. By strengthening the pack forces in collisions should be spread out, reducing the risk of intrusion into the battery pack.
Over the weekend Business Week interviewed David Strickland at NAIAS during which he said NHTSA is "comfortable" with GM's fix, but cautioning that the NHTSA investigation has not concluded. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is quoted saying GM had “worked very cooperatively” with regulators, and that “It’s in everybody’s best interest to make sure the Volt is safe to drive.”
GM is conducting what's known as a "Customer Satisfaction Program" which is essentially a recall, but without the full weight (or perhaps political baggage) of calling it an official recall conducted through NHTSA oversight. Chevy Volt owners are already receiving registered letters with instructions on what to do to have the fix installed in their cars, and the fix is already being implemented at the factory for newly built cars.
About the reporter: After 22 years in Silicon Valley's software industry David Herron is now writing about green transportation (electric vehicles) from Silicon Valley. He also runs the popular electric vehicle discussion forum, visforvoltage.org, and is the author of the book "Node Web Development".