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NHTSA Unfairly Burns the Volt’s Reputation

If there is one thing that bothers me is the notion of guilty until proven innocent.  Go and visit other countries and this is the way of life there.  Not so in the U.S., unless you work for NHTSA.  Recent headlines have said that the Volt is basically a tinderbox on wheels…when you have a side impact with a light pole or tree.  Statistically unproven and contrary to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety findings that the Volt is a safe vehicle for the masses.

When a new vehicle is introduced into the market it is subject to a battery of tests to make sure it is up to snuff with the latest government regulations.  There are so many regulations in place from everything such as the coatings on bolts to the torque of the fastener holding your seat belt to the car to the composition of the windshield glass.  Everything is in place to keep the occupants safe in a vehicle.  We rely on our government to look after the automakers to make sure they are adhering to these regulations to keep us all safe.

Recently NHTSA conducted some side impact tests to the Chevrolet Volt.  One test in May of 2011 resulted in a fire three weeks after the crash.  Three weeks?  Well, that is surely enough time to get the occupants out safely.  Last week NHTSA conducted more tests of the battery packs to simulate side impact crashes into a tree (a very unique incident!) or light pole.  They conducted a total of three more tests.  Two of the three tests resulted in fires hours or days after the simulated crash.

Statistically speaking, three fires is not enough to cause mayhem.  Besides, it took hours, days or even weeks for these fires to start.  I’ve witnessed two car accidents of traditional internal combustion engine vehicles that resulted in fires almost immediately after impact in the real world.  I haven’t seen anyone getting jazzed up about either of the two cars in those crashes.  No real world crashes of the Volt have even resulted in a fire.  So, are we just looking for another reason to hang EVs and hybrids?  It appears that way.  Media sensationalism is taking a new aim at the Volt.

I’d hope that consumers would realize that General Motors has spent thousands of hours testing the Volt in different scenarios.  The Volt was awarded a “Top Pick” by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.  This type of award is due to the engineering that was put in to developing the Volt.  I drove a Volt for a week in April of 2011.  I put my family in a Volt again knowing that GM had done their due diligence in developing a safe vehicle.  I’d put my family in one for another week or longer if given the chance.  I’m that confident that the Volt is a safe vehicle and that if I were to get in a side impact collision I would have ample time to get the occupants out of the car.  27% of people that died in auto accidents in 2009 were in a side impact.  The testing by the IIHS shows that drivers of a vehicle rated “good”, like the Volt, are 70% less likely to die in a side impact than a vehicle rated poorly.  It’s not clear how many of these side impacts were with trees or poles, which is what is causing these thermal events.

Another interesting find by the IIHS is that the odds of being injured in a hybrid versus a non-hybrid vehicle are 25% lower.  Weight has a lot to do with this and the Volt is no ballerina in the weight department either.  Another plus for the Volt if you’re in an accident that no one has mentioned in light of all of these fires.

Other automakers are scrambling today as they look at the PR mess that GM has to mop up after today.  With so much riding on the Volt as Chevrolet’s flagship of technology and innovation, GM can’t afford a mishap with the Volt.  The Volt hasn’t been the sales story that GM was hoping for and this type of guilty until proven innocent news from NHTSA isn’t helping.  It is likely causing all automakers to reevaluate their vehicles in development today to avoid the same type of incident.  In the end, it’ll cause the naysayers of alternative propulsion systems to says “see, they aren’t safe.”  In order to earn those credits for CAFE, automakers have no choice but to bring battery powered vehicles to market.  But where is the market?  A123 is laying off workers at a Michigan battery plant due to a lack of demand.  The battery thing seems to hit every roadblock imaginable these days.

So, let NHTSA do their investigation of side impact incidents with trees or light poles.  Let’s see what the findings come out with before we crucify the Volt.  Remember what happened to Toyota who was put on a pedestal and then accused of unintended acceleration?  Yeah, there wasn’t an issue but it was too late.  The damage was done by accusing Toyota of being guilty until proven innocent.  I know NHTSA is trying to have good intentions by looking out for all of us but their way of broadcasting it doesn’t leave much in the way of reconciliation if there is no cause found.  I’m not saying there isn’t an issue with the Volt I’m simply saying let’s see what happens and in the mean time, enjoy your Volt, if you have one.

Before we ask for more regulation let’s get a fair look at the real cause.  Now, if we could just get the government to get on board with clean diesel…


  • dixiedrifter| December 5, 2011 at 10:12 am

    The issue here is, GM attempted to pedal a “bill of goods”. The Volt is the only EV thus far to experience potential fire issues following standardized safety tests. What this indicates, GM engineering appears to be suspect. With a new technology upon us, GM had better go back to the drawing board, anything less than a re-design will result in a significant loss of EV market share. Maybe there is a reason GM’s competition chose to use an air-cooled battery design? As the Volt crash test facts are made available, it looks more and more like GM stubbed their toe. GM now has a two-fold problem on their hands, a suspect vehicle with a PR disaster about to erupt.

    • Doug| February 3, 2012 at 12:39 pm

      GM pedaled a bill of good’s. What is that susposedto mean? You obviously listen to too much Neil Cavuto. My apologies, but I don’t suffer fools well and when people opine about things they know nothing of it borders on ignornance.
      Have you driven a Chevy Volt? Have you read the follow up reports and what GM has done to resolve the issue? Have you taken the time to review the facts and assesments? Did you listen to any of the senate testimonials?
      I own a Chevy Volt and have told everyone of my friends and relatives it’s a grat car. I’ve allowed all who wish to expierence it, to drive it. All and I mean all, have stated it’s more car than they expected and most have asked to drive it again.
      “Its better to think one a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt”

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