The NHTSA has opened an investigation to try to establish why batteries in three Chevrolet Volts that were subjected to crash tests caught fire. In one case, the cells reportedly ignited in a car that had been sitting untouched for three weeks. The battery pack in the Volt is assembled in Michigan from cells supplied by LG Chem plants in Korea.

The Administration’s preliminary statement on the matter notes that it has had no reports of battery fires in production models of the Volt, though it added, “The agency is concerned that damage to the Volt’s batteries as part of three tests that are explicitly designed to replicate real-world crash scenarios have resulted in fire”.

Following a test which took place last Thursday, the NHTSA decided to closely monitor a Volt battery pack after it caught fire. Another recently crash-tested battery emitted smoke and sparks, the Administration’s statement says.

These new fires are in addition to a battery fire in a Volt that was crash-tested six months ago, the Associated Press reports. The NHTSA learned of a possible fire risk involving damaged Volt batteries when a fire erupted in a Volt that was being stored in a carpark at a test facility in Burlington, Wisconsin.

The Burlington fire was severe enough to ignite several other vehicles parked nearby. The tested Volt had been subjected to a side-impact crash test more than three weeks earlier, on May 12, during which the battery was punctured and its coolant line ruptured, AP reports. Last week’s tests of three battery packs were designed to replicate the May test.

Following the news that the NHTSA is to investigate the battery fires, General Motors issued the following announcement: “The Volt is safe and does not present undue risk as part of normal operation or immediately after a severe crash,” adding that its own “…aggressive testing with NHTSA to determine the operating limits of this technology under extreme conditions can help set industry battery performance standards going forward”.

Author: Glenn Brooks