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Details of Volt fire offered to clarify electric vehicle safety

November 14, 2011 | 12:20 pm

Regulators said electric vehicles like the Volt are not more prone to fires.

Federal safety regulators released more details about the Chevrolet Volt fire that has caused officials to look into post-crash protocols for electric vehicles.

The fire occurred more than three weeks after the plug-in hybrid sedan was crashed as part of the agency’s New Car Assessment Program in May.

Officials from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said the crash damaged the Volt’s lithium ion battery and that damage eventually caused the fire.

“That incident — which occurred at the test facility and caused property damage but no injuries — remains the only case of a battery-related fire in a crash or crash test of vehicles powered by lithium-ion batteries, despite a number of other rigorous crash tests of the Chevy Volt separately conducted by both NHTSA and General Motors,” regulators said in a statement.

NHTSA said it believes that electric vehicles have no greater risk of fire than any other vehicles.

But since electric vehicles represent new technology just coming to the market, regulators want to develop protocols for post-crash situations to make sure that consumers and emergency responders don't get hurt and that damaged vehicles are stored in a manner that would prevent a fire at a later time.

The agency has asked all electric vehicle manufacturers to provide information on the protocols they have established for discharging and handling their lithium-ion batteries—including any recommendations for reducing the fire risk.

“Ultimately we hope the information we gather will lay the groundwork for detailed guidance for first-responders and tow truck operators for use in their work responding to incidents involving these vehicles,” the agency said.

The Volt is designed to run purely off its batteries for about 40 miles. When the batteries run low, a gasoline engine kicks in and functions as a generator, powering the electric motors and extending the range of the sedan to more than 300 miles.

Other electric cars currently for sale include the Nissan Leaf and the Tesla Roadster.  Several other automakers, including Toyota, Ford and Mitsubishi plan to launch sales of electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids in the coming months.

General Motors Co., which owns the Chevrolet brands, said the Volt is safe. It said it is working  “cooperatively with NHTSA as it completes its investigation.”

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-- Jerry Hirsch

Twitter.com/LATimesJerry

Photo: Chevolet Volt.  Credit: Associated Press.

 

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