U.S. auto-safety regulators investigating Chevy Volt lithium ion batteries after catching fire

Article by Christian Andrei, on November 14, 2011

The safety of the lithium ion batteries in electric vehicles is in question after an incident of a Chevrolet Volt battery catching fire was reported. A probe has been initiated by U.S. auto-safety regulators over this issue. Sources say that the automakers that either already sell vehicles powered by lithium ion batteries or have plans to do so were approached by regulators.

These automakers include General Motors, Nissan Motor Co. and Ford Motor Co. According to an agency official, the Volt was parked at the testing center of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration when it caught fire.

Three weeks earlier, it had been subjected to a side-impact crash test. Jim Federico, GM’s chief engineer for electric vehicles, said that what he wants to emphasize is that the Volt is a “safe car.” He asserted that the company is cooperating with the NHTSA’s probe. The NHTSA has said that according to available data, the risk of a Volt catching fire is not greater than that of a traditional gas-powered car.

This investigation comes at a time when the automakers are working to expand their plug-in offerings beyond the Volt and Nissan's Leaf, which started selling in the 2011 model year as the first mass-market plug-in electric cars offered in the U.S. It should be mentioned that a nickel-metal battery is used by Toyota Motor Co.'s Prius, the top-selling hybrid in the world.

However, lithium ion batteries will soon be used by a plug-in Prius and an electric version of the RAV4 sport-utility vehicle.

President Barack Obama aims to achieve its target of having 1 million electric vehicles on U.S. roads by the year 2015. Nissan is one of the companies that had been given financing assistance by the U.S. Energy Department and European Investment Bank for the development of the Leaf and lithium ion batteries.

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