"Although we loaded the Volt with state-of-the-art safety features, we did not engineer the Volt to be a political punching bag. Sadly, that is what it's become."

That's how General Motors CEO Dan Akerson described the furor surrounding the Chevrolet Volt battery fires. A pack demolished in NHTSA crash testing had caught fire in a storage yard three weeks after the test, and further tests replicated the effect in a lab.

In a hearing aimed at finding out what the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration knew about the fires - and when they knew - GM and the NHTSA faced questions by Reps. Darrell Issa (R-CA), and Mike Kelly (R-PA), among others.

Administrator of the NHTSA, David Strickland, denied that the NHTSA should have revealed data about the crash-test fire earlier than it did.

"It is irresponsible... frankly illegal, for us to go forward and tell the American public that there is something wrong with a car when we don't know what it is," Strickland said.

He added, "It took us that time [the five months between the fire and the incident being reported] to figure it out." Strickland denied that an announcement about the incident was delayed to avoid impacting on Volt sales, adding "We pulled no punches".

Speaking for GM, Akerson added that he felt the NHTSA's treatment was proportional to the incident, when asked by Issa if the NHTSA's response had been aggressive, average or below average.

Akerson flatly denied the assertion by Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) that GM had asked the White House to keep quiet about the fire. No such conversation ever happened, he said.

GM CEO Dan Akerson at the Volt battery fires hearing

GM CEO Dan Akerson at the Volt battery fires hearing

Akerson told the attendees he viewed the hearing as a positive - a very public chance to prove that the Volt is a safe car, to reiterate its 5-star NHTSA safety rating, and to stress that no fires have yet happened out on the road over millions of Volt miles.

He also quipped that a period of 7-21 days, after which time the testing fire had occurred, is usually enough time to exit a vehicle after an accident.

GM has already developed a fix for the issue, strengthening the battery pack to better resist side impacts. As a show of confidence, Akerson revealed he himself had just bought a Volt, and drove it to the hearing.

So is the Volt safe?

It was a question seemingly asked a dozen times or more at the hearing, and each time, the answer was the same:

Yes, the Volt is a safe car.


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