House Committee Holds Hearing on Chevy Volt Fire and Subsequent NHTSA Investigation - BodyShop Business
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House Committee Holds Hearing on Chevy Volt Fire and Subsequent NHTSA Investigation

The U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs, Stimulus Oversight and Government Spending has held a hearing titled “Volt Vehicle Fire: What Did NHTSA Know and When Did They Know It?” The hearing comes after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced an end to its investigation into Chevy Volt battery fires.

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The U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs, Stimulus Oversight and Government Spending has held a hearing titled "Volt Vehicle Fire: What Did NHTSA Know and When Did They Know It?" The hearing comes after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced an end to its investigation into Chevy Volt battery fires.

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Having completed crash tests of vehicles and battery components, and the fact that it was an emerging technology, NHTSA decided to open an investigation into the Chevy Volt batteries without actual field tests demonstrating problems. According to NHTSA, its conclusions from the investigation are that "no discernible defect trend exists and the vehicle modifications recently developed by General Motors reduce the potential for battery intrusion resulting from side impacts." NHTSA also reported that they do not believe that Chevy Volts or other electric vehicles pose a greater risk of fire than gasoline-powered vehicles.

Witnesses at the hearing included the Honorable David L. Strickland, NHTSA administrator; Daniel Akerson, chairman and CEO of General Motors; and John German, a Senior Fellow and program director at the International Council on Clean Transportation.

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The investigation was initiated by NHTSA after it had completed standard tests and then left a Chevy Volt vehicle in a salvage storage area where it was found burnt three weeks later.

Strickland made the following remarks regarding the Volt fire: "Once the Volt battery was identified as the source of the fire, NHTSA proceeded to determine whether the fire resulting from the May crash test was an anomaly and, if it was not, whether GM and other manufacturers had protocols in place for assessing or managing the risks. In September, we conducted a second side pole test of a Volt. The test vehicle was fitted with additional cameras and equipment to monitor post-crash events. The vehicle was monitored for three weeks after the crash. This second side pole test did not produce any intrusion into the battery compartment and there was no battery damage, shorting or coolant leakage. GM conducted a similar side pole test the same month and that also did not result in any intrusion into the battery pack or fire."

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Strickland went on to say, "In a review of all crash reports in the field involving Chevrolet Volt vehicles, we found no reports of post-crash fires."

Akerson made the following comments, assuring the committee of the unlikely nature of another post-crash Volt vehicle fire: "Testing conducted by regulators resulted in a fire – in one test seven days later and in another more than three weeks later – after putting the battery through lab conditions that no driver would experience in the real world."

The conclusion of those testifying at the hearing was that after a thorough investigation, the Chevy Volt fires appeared to be isolated incidents that had taken place after testing and that there are no known field cases of a fire in a Chevy Volt.

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However, the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform report raised questions about the fire and the subsequent investigation. According to the committee report, released the day of the hearing:

"NHTSA’s true motivations for delaying public notice of the Volt fire investigation and its obstruction of this committee’s investigation are not currently known. However, it is clear that the administration has tremendous incentives to protect the political investment it has made in the company and the vehicle. The president has made the survival of GM a central campaign issue, he has personally endorsed the Volt, and his administration has touted the vehicle as one of the few cars currently produced that can satisfy its proposed fuel economy regulations. Accordingly, the American people have a right to know the exact nature of the relationship between GM and the administration, and the implications this relationship has for public safety."

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More information:

To view full testimony from this hearing, as well as the committee report, and Interim Guidance for Electric and Hybrid-Electric Vehicles Equipped with High Voltage Batteries, visit ASA’s legislative website

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