In 2008, General Motors announced that their subsidiary, Chevrolet, would be coming out with its own plug-in hybrid electric compact car to compete with Toyota Motor Corp.’s highly praised Prius. Like the Prius, it is powered by a lithium-ion battery. General Motors dubbed their new Chevrolet venture the Volt and marketed it as “the most fuel-efficient compact car in the United States.”
But now, their acclaimed plug-in hybrid electric vehicle is raising major concern amongst consumers, with the auto manufacturer, safety groups and, more significantly, the United States government and their auto safety regulating agency, the Nation Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
The NHTSA recently announced a “safety defect investigation” into the Chevy Volt after 3 crash tests, which were specifically design to simulate common real-life car crash situations, revealed a dangerous flaw. After a crash, the Volt’s lithium-ion battery is susceptible to combustion. Even days after the crash a fire could ignite within the battery compartment and lead to serious damage or injury.
In an effort to save the Chevy Volt’s reputation, General Motors announced plans to loan out cars to owners while the auto manufacturer’s engineers work with the NHTSA to find the cause of the fires and how to fix the problem. GM was quick to point out that the Chevy Volt fires occurred days after the crash, not at the time of impact. Where as, with gas-powered vehicles the risk of fire is immediate if a major accident occurs.
Jeremy Anwyl, Chief Executive Officer of Edmunds.com (an auto research website based in Southern California), pointed out that the Volt is General Motors’ “counter to the Prius. They will do everything the can to make sure people don’t draw negative conclusions.” Many other analysts are more concerned about how this development will affect public opinion towards hybrid electric vehicles as a whole. All hybrid electrics use similar lithium-ion batteries. The concern is that consumers will be swayed by fear and rethink their decision to opt for an eco-friendly, fuel-efficient vehicle.