Current Weather
The Spy FM

GM Looks To Protect Green Image With Volt Fixes

Filed by KOSU News in Business.
January 5, 2012

General Motors is advising Chevrolet Volt owners to return their electric cars to dealers for repairs that will better protect the vehicles’ batteries, which have caught fire after crash tests.

The repairs fall under a “customer service campaign,” which is similar to a safety recall but allows GM to avoid the bad publicity and federal monitoring that come with a formal recall.

The company’s move comes after three Volt batteries caught fire at government test sites last year, following side-impact crash tests performed by federal safety regulators. The fires occurred seven days to three weeks after the crashes, which damaged the plastic battery pack and caused coolant to leak. The coolant then caused an electrical short, sparking the fires.

Dealers will add steel to a plate that protects the Volt battery, spreading the force of a crash over a larger area, says Mary Barra, GM’s product development chief. GM and federal safety regulators say that tests have shown the repairs stop penetration into the battery and prevent coolant leaks.

GM’s Clean Car Reputation

GM has a huge incentive to fix the problem and protect the image of the Volt, which isn’t a big seller — it has fallen short of sales goals — but it burnishes GM’s image as a greener, more innovative carmaker.

Jack Nerad, an analyst for Kelley Blue Book, says the Volt is what’s referred to in the car business as a “halo car,” or an emblem of everything GM is and wants to be.

“Any question about the Chevy Volt is bad news for GM,” Nerad says. “Even if this is a minor problem, or a problem that is very, very unlikely to happen to a consumer, it’s still not good news.”

The Volt is where GM has staked its reputation and ad dollars, he says. Michael Robinet, an analyst with IHS Automotive, says GM is making a smart move by getting ahead of the game.

“They take it very seriously that they want to make sure that they’re putting the very best vehicle out,” he says.

Though it isn’t the largest recall, the Volt’s status has attracted a considerable amount of attention, he says. “There’s recalls that involve tens of hundreds of more vehicles than this does, but interestingly, you don’t get phone calls about those.”

A Voluntary Recall

GM and the government both stress that there is no immediate danger to Volt drivers. “We have made the Volt even safer,” Mark Reuss, GM’s North American president, said Thursday.

GM says it wasn’t forced by the government to repair the car. The automakers and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration — the federal safety agency — say no fires have broken out after Volt crashes on real-world roadways.

NHTSA began studying the Volt batteries after a car caught fire in June at a test facility in Wisconsin, three weeks after a side-impact crash test. The agency opened an investigation into the Volt’s safety in November following that fire and two others that occurred after crash tests.

Then, in late December, the agency crashed a Volt with the added steel. “The preliminary results of the crash test indicate the remedy proposed by General Motors today should address the issue,” NHTSA says. The agency says it will monitor the car for another week and will continue its investigation.

GM said the Volt’s battery should have been drained after crashes, but it never told NHTSA to do that. Later, two GM executives said the company had no formal procedure to drain the batteries until after the fire.

The company now sends out a team to drain the batteries after being notified of a crash by GM’s OnStar safety system.

GM sold 7,671 Volts last year, falling short of its goal of 10,000. It was outsold by its main electric car competitor, the Nissan Leaf, at 9,674.

The Volt has a T-shaped, 400-pound battery pack that can power the car for about 35 miles. After that, a small gasoline generator kicks in to run the electric motor.

NPR’s Sonari Glinton contributed to this report, which contains material from The Associated Press [Copyright 2012 National Public Radio]

Leave a Reply

12AM to 5AM The Spy

The Spy

An eclectic mix of the Spy's library of more than 10,000 songs curated by Ferris O'Brien.

Listen Live Now!

5AM to 9AM Morning Edition

Morning Edition

For more than two decades, NPR's Morning Edition has prepared listeners for the day ahead with two hours of up-to-the-minute news, background analysis, commentary, and coverage of arts and sports.

View the program guide!

9AM to 10AM The Takeaway

The Takeaway

A fresh alternative in morning news, "The Takeaway" provides a breadth and depth of world, national and regional news coverage that is unprecedented in public media.

View the program guide!

Upcoming Events in your area (Submit your event today!)

Streaming audio and podcasts

Stream KOSU on your smartphone

Phone Streaming

SmartPhone listening options on this page are intended for many iPhones, Blackberries, etc. with low-cost software applications available to listen to our full-time web streams, both News on KOSU-1 and Classical on KOSU-2.

Learn more about our complete range of streaming services

We're perfecting the patient experience - Stillwater Medical Center