GM offers loaner Volts after battery fires during crash tests

GM hopes free loaner cars boost consumer confidence about its plug-in electric car after crash-test fires

November 30, 2011   by The Canadian Press

DETROIT—General Motors Co. will offer free loaner vehicles for consumers worried about the prospects of its Chevrolet Volt electric vehicle catching fire.

The move comes after a U.S. government safety agency said it’s investigating fires involving the Volt’s lithium-ion battery packs following crash tests.

So far, the Volt tests have not raised concerns about the safety of other electric cars, the agency said.

GM said that the vehicle is safe, but it will contact owners of the more than 5,000 Volts sold in North America since last December to reassure them.

GM has not put a time limit on how long customers can keep the loaners, but said the offer is not a response to demands from customers.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said a Volt battery pack caught fire last week, days after it was hit in a side-impact crash test.

The agency said another crash-tested battery recently gave off smoke and sparks.

The Volt, which travels about 55 kilometres on electric power before a small gasoline generator kicks in to run the car, has helped Chevrolet’s public image—and GM is eager to protect that good will.

GM said the fires reported by the NHTSA occurred one to three weeks after the crashes and could have been avoided had the battery charge been drained.

Coolant is pumped between the Volt’s lithium-ion battery cells to avoid overheating.

In the June fire at a test facility in Burlington, Wisconsin, coolant leaked from the battery and crystallized, which could have been a factor in the fire, GM has said. The fire came three weeks after a side-impact crash test and was severe enough to cause several other vehicles parked nearby to catch fire as well.

GM says the battery cells were not involved in the fires, only the electronics within the battery pack. It has also vowed to not sell anymore Volts in other countries until it has informed emergency responders, salvage yards and dealers have been trained to discharge the batteries after a crash.

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