Fire in Chevy Volt Sparks Federal Investigation Into EV Safety

Nov. 14, 2011
Safety officials said there is 'no evidence' that electric cars are at a greater risk of fire than gasoline-powered ones, although there have been fire problems with lithium-ion batteries used in computers.

U.S. officials said they have launched an investigation into electric-vehicle safety after a damaged lithium-ion battery in a Chevy Volt caught fire three weeks after a crash test.

Safety officials said there is "no evidence" that electric cars are at a greater risk of fire than gasoline-powered ones, although there have been fire problems with lithium-ion batteries used in computers.

Nobody was hurt in the fire, which damaged property at a government testing facility in Wisconsin in May.

It is the only case of battery-related fire recorded after "numerous" crash tests, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration said.

The agency said it will be conducting further tests on the batteries and is working with automakers to make sure they have "appropriate post-crash protocols."

The agency also is working to inform consumers and emergency responders of the necessary safety precautions.

"It is common sense that the different designs of electric vehicles will require different safety standards and precautions," the agency said, adding that electric vehicles "show great promise as an innovative and fuel-efficient option for American drivers."

General Motors said it has not received any reports of trouble from dealers, customers or the OnStar systems installed in the 5,000 Volts that have been sold since the vehicle's launch last year.

"So far we've had absolutely zero reports of trouble," GM spokesman Greg Martin told AFP, adding that the Volt has a five-star safety rating.

GM said it already has developed protocols to depower the battery of an electric vehicle after a significant crash and will be working with federal regulators to further investigate the fire.

"First and foremost, I want to make this very clear: The Volt is a safe car," Jim Federico, GM's chief engineer for electric vehicles, said in a statement.

Federico acknowledged that safety protocols for electric vehicles "are clearly an industry concern."

"We are working with other vehicle manufacturers, first responders, tow truck operators and salvage associations with the goal of implementing industry-wide protocols," he said.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2011

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