NHTSA closes investigation of Chevy Volt as having no defect trend
Good news for General Motors (NYSE: GM) and all EV manufacturers. NHTSA officially closed the Chevy Volt issue with PE11037, an assigned action number that the organization uses to identity and collect all reports related to an official issue like a safety defect investigation.
Contained within the summary report, NHTSA noted key words that takes the pressure off of GM. “A defect trend has not been identified at this time, and further investigation does not appear to be warranted. Accordingly, the investigation is closed. “
Elsewhere per NHTSA, official announcement of the document also read as follows: "Today, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration closed its safety defect investigation into the potential risk of fire in Chevy Volts that have been involved in a serious crash. Opened on November 25, the agency’s investigation has concluded that no discernible defect trend exists and that the vehicle modifications recently developed by General Motors reduce the potential for battery intrusion resulting from side impacts."
Key to this investigation was the lack of evidence from other vehicles, including other brands. Nonetheless, NHTSA targeted the Volt noting that “it remains unaware of any real-world crashes that have resulted in a battery-related fire involving the Chevy Volt or any other electric vehicle. NHTSA continues to believe that electric vehicles show great promise as a safe and fuel-efficient option for American drivers.”
However, as the reports released in conjunction with the closure of the investigation today indicate, fires following NHTSA crash tests of the vehicle and its battery components, along with the innovative nature of this emerging technology, led the agency to take the unusual step of opening a safety defect investigation in the absence of data from real-world incidents.
In other words, NHTSA had little choice but to do the job that it is assigned to do. So no apology is necessary; and none will be given, despite the fact that many in GM and the industry will never say publicly that NHTSA violated protocol when it failed to drain the battery after such a violent crash test. The vehicle was simply placed in storage, and the fire did not occur until weeks later.
Then again, the government still owns GM (correction, at least big stake); so open criticism was out of the question.
Based on the available data, though, NHTSA stated openly it does not believe that Chevy Volts or other electric vehicles pose a greater risk of fire than gasoline-powered vehicles. Generally all vehicles have some risk of fire in the event of a serious crash. However, electric vehicles have specific attributes that should be made clear to consumers, the emergency response community, and tow truck operators and storage facilities.
Recognizing these considerations, NHTSA reported it has developed interim guidance — with the assistance of the National Fire Protection Association, the Department of Energy, and others — to increase awareness and identify appropriate safety measures for these groups. The agency expects this guidance will help inform the ongoing work by NFPA, DOE, and vehicle manufacturers to educate the emergency response community, law enforcement officers, and others about electric vehicles.