After putting a Chevy Volt through a crash test, the NHTSA had put the plug-in hybrid out in a parking lot, seemingly awaiting the scrapper. Three weeks after the test though, a fire starting at the battery pack engulfed the Volt and damaged several nearby vehicles. This prompted the NHTSA to launch an investigation in electric vehicle battery packs.
Over the course of three days, the NHTSA conducted studies on three other battery packs, simulating an accident and rollover. One of the packs recorded a heat spike a day after the simulated accident, but no fire. It was then rotated 180 degrees as it would be in a rollover, and within hours sparks and smoke were seen emitting from the battery pack.
Another pack, undergoing a similar accident and rollover test, caught fire a week after the initial test. These two incidents are what have prompted the NHTSA to further investigate not just the Chevy Volt, but all electric vehicles with lithium-ion battery packs.
It’s too early to tell what, if any, impact this will have on electric vehicle sales and, and the attitude of people towards them. It is also important to note that the NHTSA did not follow GM’s procedures for discharging a battery that has been damaged (because GM didn’t bother to tell the NHTSA). But as electric vehicles become more prevalent, these are the kinds of issues that will keep cropping up, and automakers like GM need to ensure that they control the dialogue. That starts with getting the word out about the right way to deal with a beat-up battery.