Two people close to the situation at General Motors Co. shared with Reuters on Tuesday that the automaker is coming closer to a collection of proposed solutions to a problem with the Chevrolet Volt battery pack that could result in a fire igniting days after a crash occurs.
Proposed repairs under development include the possibility of laminating the circuitry within the 400-pound battery pack, reinforcing the case that surrounds the battery, and providing better protection for the coolant system, to reduce the likelihood of leaks in a severe crash.
Acting in response to an investigation opened by U.S. safety regulation officials last month, GM is working quickly to eliminate concerns that the Volt's battery pack is a fire risk. To that end, the company is creating a repair that is relatively quick and can be completed by GM dealerships, in order to keep costs low, cushion the company's reputation, and also make things convenient for owners of the plug-in hybrid.
The Chevrolet Volt has quickly become GM's poster child, representing the automaker's goal of securing a top position in the fuel economy/green technology race. Its lithium-ion battery will run for about 40 miles, after which there's a 1.4-liter gasoline engine to provide a bit more range.
It's expected that the GM engineering team will be updating their senior management by the end of the week about a proposed fix for the more than 6,000 Volts currently in operation on American roads. Such a solution, it is estimated, could cost the company less than $9 million, or roughly $1,000 per Volt, including labor. That number could increase, sources say, if the regulatory agencies insist upon a more in-depth correction of the problem.
The investigation that precipitated the mad dash for a fix was opened by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) last month, as a response to a Volt battery pack that went through a crash-test in May, but caught fire three weeks later at one of its test facilities in Wisconsin.
Lab tests conducted late last month resulted in another Volt battery pack beginning to smoke and spark, and a third catching fire, days after simulated crash testing.
GM has assured the public that the Volt's battery pack is safe during and immediately after any crash, and that the problem is not related to any flaw in the battery cells, which are supplied by LG Chem, LTD., out of South Korea.
Owners of the more than 6,000 operating Volts have been offered the use of loaner cars by GM, while the investigation continues, with GM Chief Excutive Dan Akerson going so far as to promise to buy back any of the cars if customers concerns were not assuaged. Akerson believes that the Volt battery might require a complete overhaul, rather than just a quick fix.
Despite these issues, neither the NHTSA nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety have any plans to remove the Volt's five-star safety ratings.