Today's Volt Update: GM Buyback, Owners Rally, Sales Goal Unmet

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2012 Chevrolet Volt

2012 Chevrolet Volt

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Phew. Yesterday was quite a day indeed in Chevy Volt land.

A bevy of news items hit the wires, following Monday's offer of loaner cars to Volt owners who weren't comfortable with their cars' safety until the NHTSA finishes its investigation into battery-pack fires in cars that had been wrecked in crash tests:

We spoke today with more than one GM source to try to add some clarity to all this. Because they frequently went off the record, we're summarizing rather than direct-quoting.

'Redesign' meant 'modify'

GM is not going to "redesign" the battery pack in the current Volt, and it's a word that CEO Akerson most likely regrets using now. The Voltec engineers, however, may modify the pack to address whatever findings come out of the NHTSA investigation.

Dan Akerson

Dan Akerson

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Those findings haven't yet been issued, and GM folks said several times, in several formulations, words to the effect of, "Our engineers are still working closely with NHTSA investigators to determine the root cause of these incidents."

Until final conclusions have been reached, GM isn't going to comment on causes or potential modifications--though it's worth recalling that GM senior vice president of global product development Mary Barra said Monday it appeared that the lithium-ion cells themselves were not a cause of the incidents.

That said, we'd hazard a guess that down the road, there may be either minor structural modifications or changes to materials used in parts of the pack. Again, that's not GM saying it. That's us.

Volt Battery Pack

Volt Battery Pack

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Loaners, buybacks

The buyback offer will not be separately communicated to every Volt owner, unlike the letter sent out this week offering a loaner car to Volt owners who are concerned about safety.

Instead, it'll be handled by dealer representatives and/or Volt customer-service staff on a case-by-case basis, where a customer has serious concerns.

Thus far, GM has received a few hundred calls from Volt owners--and 33 requests for loaner cars--out of about 6,000 Volt owners.

Volt owners support GM

For more information, our colleague Felix Kramer at CalCars has compiled an even more detailed roundup of news items and perspective. He argues that GM has done pretty much everything it could do to stay on top of the situation (and the sometimes sloppy reporting of it).

2011 Chevrolet Volt destroyed in Barkhamsted, CT, garage fire; image from WTNH News 8 report

2011 Chevrolet Volt destroyed in Barkhamsted, CT, garage fire; image from WTNH News 8 report

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We particularly like his quote from a friend, summarizing the situation to date as: "If you totally destroy your Volt, please discharge the battery before parking it in the garage for 10 days."

And that sentiment seems to be shared by not only Volt owners, but also potential buyers.

As well as the Open Letter being drafted by Volt owners, Kevin Kelly, GM's manager of electric vehicle and hybrid public relations, said that as of now, "We're not seeing any negative implications among current or prospective Volt owners."

No greater reason for concern

The site GM-Volt takes a more data-driven approach, with a post by Bill Destler, president of the Rochester Institute of Technology, evaluating the fire risk in a Volt based on the low sample size and limited number of events to date.

His conclusion: "Volt owners have [no] more reason to be concerned about the safety of their vehicles than do the drivers of other vehicles."

Kramer, meanwhile, cites data from the National Fire Protection Association showing that during 2010, there were 184,500 fires, mostly from liquid fuel tanks, among all U.S. vehicles. They resulted in 285 civilian deaths, an additional 1,440 injuries, and a total of $1 billion in property damage.


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Comments (10)
  1. my conclusion, petrol and a spark does boem!
    From now on no petrol in those volts, and you have less chance of fire after an accident!

  2. "petrol and a spark does boem"; congratualtions, you just discribed the working principle of all gasoline powered vehicles. So maybe it's wise not to put any gasoline in those either because apparently according to this article that resulted in 184,500 fires causing 285 deaths and 1440 injuries in 2010...

  3. I don't think the gas tank was involved in the fire in this case.

  4. A redesign IS a modification.

  5. Well at least it doesn't have "unintended acceleration."

  6. You forgot to add, "Not yet, anyways."

    Has anyone checked on Ford's electric vehicle? I thought they were supposed to be out on the road by now. Are they having any problems, or is it just GOP's Government Motors that's having all the their presidential candidates?

  7. NFPA has some contradictory data, showing 215,500 vehicle fires and 310 deaths in 2010 on this page:

  8. This is a great opportunity to identify and resolve a problem without any injuries. Not even any property damage - this is why we crash test cars, to discover this stuff.

    Outside the accidental hyperbole of "Redesign", I think that GM have handled this well, ok, a little over the top… just a smidgen but, better that than denial.

    Hopefully, we'll find the cause and, if needs be update all other EVs to improve the already high level of safety inherent in the technology.

  9. This whole thing has been blown out of proportion, from what I've read the Volt is obviously not at fault. Even if the investigation warrants any changes I'm sure they will turn out to be minor.

  10. Well, a lot in this article is just nit picky. Writer seems a little immature. Having said that, I ordered an EV car this year and have one on order to take delivery early in 2012. However, neither car will be a Volt. The writer is off base by knocking the Gov't Motors tag. This EV fan finds that title quite accurate. I will never buy a Volt since they used tax payer money when their competitors did not have to follow the same path. GM has some serious efficiency issues, but we required the taxpayers to spring the funds so survive. Hum...

    I do wish Green Car Reports would quit bashing republicans every chance they get and just let it rest already. Just stick with facts and quit hurting your reputation by being personal!

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