Washington, D.C. – The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and General Motors have issued statements on the potential risk of vehicles powered by lithium-ion batteries, following an incident in which a Chevrolet Volt caught fire several weeks after it was crash-tested.
In its statement, NHTSA said that it “does not believe electric vehicles are at a greater risk of fire than other vehicles. It is common sense that the different designs of electric vehicles will require different safety standards and precautions. The Department of Energy and the National Fire Protection Association already collaborate to ensure first responders know the risks and the appropriate steps to take so they can perform their jobs safely given the shock hazard that a damaged electric vehicle may present, and NHTSA will work closely with these organizations to ensure that guidance for the emergency response community reflects the information NHTSA obtains.”
NHTSA said it has asked all manufacturers that currently have electric vehicles on the market or plan to introduce them to provide information on the protocols they have established for discharging and handling their lithium-ion batteries, including any recommendations for mitigating fire risks in these vehicles.
The Volt fire occurred more than three weeks after the vehicle had been crash-tested as part of NHTSA’s New Car Assessment Program. The agency concluded that the crash damaged the lithium-ion battery and that the damage led to the fire. NHTSA said that the incident, which occurred at the test facility and caused property damage but no injuries, “remains the only case of a battery-related fire in a crash or crash test of vehicles powered by lithium-ion batteries, despite a number of other rigorous crash tests of the Chevy Volt separately conducted by both NHTSA and General Motors.”
In a statement, Jim Federico, GM’s chief engineer for electric vehicles, said, “First and foremost, I want to make this very clear: the Volt is a safe car. We are working cooperatively with NHTSA as it completes its investigation. However, NHTSA has stated that based on available data, there’s no greater risk of fire with a Volt than a traditional gasoline-powered car.”