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Chevy Volts' potentially flammable batteries: Are the cars still safe?
GM's green-energy star hits a speed bump — with some Volts catching fire weeks after being damaged in government crash tests
 
Chevy Volts in a General Motors factory: In three instances, the much-hyped electric car has caught fire days or weeks after crash tests.
Chevy Volts in a General Motors factory: In three instances, the much-hyped electric car has caught fire days or weeks after crash tests.
Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

General Motors' new electric car, the Chevy Volt, has won top customer satisfaction ratings, but it's getting plenty of demerits from the federal government. Days or weeks after the government conducted side-impact tests on Volts, the cars' lithium-ion batteries caught fire, and the government is investigating why. (The same type of battery has been blamed in the past for flaming, over-heated laptops.) Anxious to defend the car's reputation, GM is saying the cause of the fires is still unknown. Still, the automaker is taking the unprecedented step of offering to buy back the vehicles from any owners worried the cars are unsafe. Do the Volt's batteries make it dangerous?

The safety concerns are undeniable: "Fortunately for Government Motors, fires in the Chevy Volt haven't killed anyone," says Henry Payne at National Review. But with vehicles erupting in flames after crashes, it's pretty obvious that "carrying around massive, 16 kWh lithium batteries" can be risky. Engineers should be able to identify what went wrong and fix it, "but the reputation of Washington’s preferred green vehicles may not be repaired so easily."
"Volt: The heat is on"

But there's no need for immediate alarm: Let's put this in perspective, says Heather Clancy at ZDNet. Are batteries that might ignite a week or more after a crash really more dangerous than a tank of gas that can explode on impact? And let's treat these test results with at least mild skepticism. GM "has developed a feature to depower batteries after crashes, a procedure that apparently was not followed" in the government tests. Still, let's hope automakers continue to keep "safety considerations close to heart."
"Chevy Volt fires have some asking: Are electric vehicle batteries safe?"

Volt owners feel safe, apparently: It is telling that the cars' biggest defenders are their owners, says Sebastian Blanco at Autoblog. The Chevy Volt Owners Facebook group has released a letter saying its members "are not giving up the keys." They "feel safe in their cars, love the powertrain technology, and trust GM and the governmental agencies tasked with making sure the car is as safe as it can be."
"Chevy Volt Facebook group: We love our safe cars"

 

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