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EV battery safety in US probe after fire
The Volt had been crash tested by the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration three weeks previously. The fire in the unattended parking lot was apparently fierce enough to damage several cars parked next to it.
The car’s lithium ion batteries were found to be the cause of the fire, after the battery coolant leaked following the side impact crash test. Lithium ion batteries burn more intensely than regular nickel metal hydride batteries, as used (and proven to be safe) by cars such as the Toyota Prius for many years.
However, both the NHSTA and GM said they did not believe the Volt or other EVs pose a greater fire risk than conventional cars: the fact a joint statement was issued by the car maker and the safety body is seen as proof the risk to consumers is minimal.
Jim Federico, General Motors chief engineer for electric vehicles said: “First and foremost, I want to make this very clear: the Volt is a safe car.
“We are working cooperatively with NHTSA as it completes its investigation. However, NHTSA has stated that based on available data, there’s no greater risk of fire with a Volt than a traditional gasoline-powered car.”
Those familiar with the incident also say recommended safety protocols for dealing with EV batteries following an accident were not followed: if they had been, the fire would not have happened. Similar such protocols exist for conventional cars, added GM.
“We are working with other vehicle manufacturers, first responders, tow truck operators, and salvage associations with the goal of implementing industry-wide protocols,” said Federico.
GM tried to recreate the incident in a crash test and couldn’t, suggesting it was an isolated one-off.
However, US regulators are still reportedly set to launch a probe into lithium ion battery safety and are apparently contacting big EV producers such as GM, Nissan and Ford to seek further information.
US President Barack Obama has a stated goal of getting 1 million EVs onto US roads by 2015.
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