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:
- CEO Dan Akerson said (maybe) that the company might redesign the Volt's battery pack
- The company offered to buy back any Volt from owners with safety concerns who no longer wanted their cars (Esquire editor David Granger wants one, please)
- GM's sales chief officially admitted Chevy won't sell the 10,000 Volts it said it would during 2011 (Automotive News opines that it doesn't matter)
- And a group of anxious Volt owners on Facebook are putting together an Open Letter saying they believe the car is safe and do not intend to take the loaners
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.
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
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
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.