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Late Update: Explosion at GM Tech Center Battery Lab

One worker hospitalized, battery lab indefinitely closed.

by on Apr.11, 2012

A lithium-ion battery being tested at the GM Tech Center in Warren, Michigan.

This is the latest update of TheDetroitBureau.com’s initial report, posted at 5:30 PM EDT.

An explosion at a battery vehicle research lab at the General Motors Technical Center resulted in six injuries, including one hospitalization.  The lab was evacuated and it and adjoining offices will remain closed at least for another day.  The automaker says the incident was the result of “extreme testing on a prototype battery.”

Though the maker stresses that its Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid was not involved in the incident, the explosion could prove another setback considering the brouhaha that followed reports of several fires involving the Volt last year subsequent to crash testing by federal safety regulators.

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“An incident occurred about 8:45 a.m. Wednesday inside a test chamber at the General Motors Alternative Energy Center during extreme testing of an experimental battery,” the maker stated in a news release. “Chemical gases from the battery cells were released and ignited in the enclosed chamber. The battery itself was intact. The battery tested and the incident have no connection with the Chevrolet Volt or any other GM production vehicle.”

The automaker reports five employees were treated at the scene with another worker’s injuries requiring hospitalization.


NHTSA Investigating Jeep Wrangler, Chevy Cruze Fires

Owners received no advance warning of trouble.

by on Apr.02, 2012

The Chevrolet Cruze is linked to a series of unexplained fires that occurred without warning.

Federal regulators have launched separate investigations into reports of fires affecting two separate Detroit product lines: the Chevrolet Cruze sedan and the Jeep Wrangler sport-utility vehicle.

The government’s concerns about the reports were apparently serious enough for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to take the unusual step of announcing the two investigations on Sunday.

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General Motors says it has received 19 warranty claims involving Cruze fires.  NHTSA, in turn, has been notified of at least two fires that occurred while the compact sedan was being driven.  Both vehicles were destroyed.

At least seven of eight fires reportedly involving the 2010 Jeep Wrangler, meanwhile, occurred while the vehicle was being driven.  Owners report that various vehicle systems failed immediately before they began seeing smoke and flames.


Chevrolet Volt Named European Car of the Year

Jurors get charged up about plug-in hybrid.

by on Mar.06, 2012

The Opel Ampera made its debut in Geneva three years ago but finally reached market just last month.

It’s been a tough year for the Chevrolet Volt, General Motors’ once-celebrated plug-in hybrid.  But perhaps it’s about to see its fortunes turn as a jury of Continental motoring journalists declare Volt and its Opel Ampera sibling the European Car of the year.

That victory comes 14 months after the Volt took North American Car of the Year honors – but, oh, how much has happened in-between.  Just last week, GM announced it will shut down production of Volt and Ampera for five weeks due to excess inventory, a problem exacerbated by reports that several Volt battery packs caught fire after U.S. crash tests.

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But while that – and a controversial hearing by a U.S. House subcommittee — might have briefly short-circuited Volt sales, it didn’t seem to unplug enthusiasm among European journalists.  The 59 members of the European Car of the Year jury awarded Volt 330 points, nearly 20% more than its nearest competitor, the Volkswagen Up!, with 281 points  Ford’s newly-updated Focus came in third, with 256 points.


Chevy Volt Gets Green Light for CA Carpool Lanes

What would sell better: a carpool sticker or a gun rack?

by on Feb.24, 2012

The first carpool-ready Chevy Volts are now rolling into California showrooms.

It’s often the little things that matter – like the little sticker that buyers will now be able to attach to the bumper of the Chevrolet Volt that qualifies the plug-in hybrid to drive in the carpool lane on California highways even when there’s only one person in the vehicle.

Actually, that’s not such a small advantage for a motorist who can shave precious minutes off the daily commute. It’s one reason why the Toyota Prius long did so well in the traffic-choked Golden State – buyers sometimes paying as much as $5,000 more for a used hybrid with one of the limited stickers attached.

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Unfortunately, the first Volts off the assembly line didn’t fall into the so-called P-ZEV – or “partial-zero-emissions vehicle” – category required to get the carpool sticker even though they could drive up to 30 miles or so entirely on battery power. Now, General Motors has corrected that problem and the updated Chevy Volt will not only get to drive solo in the carpool lane – saving an estimated 36 minutes a day in Southern California – but also earn a $1,500 state rebate.


Congressional Trial by Fire For Volt

NHTSA chief hammered for delayed report.

by on Jan.25, 2012

GM CEO Dan Akerson gets into a Chevrolet Volt on his way to today's hearings on Capitol Hill.

General Motors CEO Dan Akerson faced a trial by fire today – quite literally – when he was grilled about a series of fires that occurred following federal crash tests of the maker’s Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid.

Akerson, by his own request, was one of those testifying during a hearing by a subcommittee of the House Oversight Committee with the provocative title, “What did NHTSA know and when did it know it.”  The reference to Watergate and former Pres. Richard Nixon reflected the clear contention of committee leaders that the National Highway Traffic Safety Agency deliberately delayed issuing a public report on the first Volt fire for at least three months.

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Some critics have suggested the agency was motivated by a desire to protect the Treasury’s stake in GM, which it first acquired as part of the bailout the maker received after going bankrupt in 2009.  But Akerson denied that, and in prepared comments told the Oversight panel, “The Volt is safe.  It’s a marvelous machine.”


Battery Fire Investigation Closed – But Volt’s Problems May Not Yet be Over

GM CEO to testify before Congress.

by on Jan.23, 2012

A NHTSA investigation into possible problems with the Chevy Volt battery pack has been closed.

The Chevrolet Volt got a clean bill of health, last Friday, with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration closing its investigation into potential problems with the plug-in hybrid’s battery pack – but that doesn’t mean General Motors’ problems with the Volt are over, as a Congressional hearing is scheduled to begin on Wednesday.

The Volt controversy stems from a fire that occurred last spring, weeks after one of the battery cars went through a federal crash test.  A second Volt battery pack caught fire after being tested in November.  That triggered an investigation by the NHTSA – as well as hearings by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, California Republican and committee chairman Darryl Issa contending that the government agency initially tried to cover up the original fire.


Meanwhile, GM, noting that there have been no real-world reports of battery-related fires, nonetheless announced on January 5 that it will make a number of small but significant modifications to further reduce the likelihood of problems with the battery pack.


GM to Make “Voluntary Enhancements” to Chevrolet Volt

Maker insists reports of post-crash test fires hasn’t hurt halo car’s image.

by on Jan.05, 2012

GM will begin modifying Volts on the assembly line immediately, with dealers modifying customer vehicles starting in February.

General Motors will make a series of “enhancements” to ensure there is no risk of its Chevrolet Volt plug-in electric vehicle catching fire after a side-impact crash.  The move follows reports last month that several Volt battery packs either caught fire or smoked and sparked several weeks after aggressive crash testing by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

While Mark Reuss, GM’s president of the Americas, said he couldn’t answer for the NHTSA he expressed confidence his company’s announcement will lead government safety regulators to wrap up their investigation into possible problems with the Volt battery pack.

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The updates to the Volt will not impact the vehicle’s lithium-ion battery pack itself but will reinforce the vehicle structure to prevent the battery coolant system from being penetrated – as happened in the NHTSA testing – while also reducing the risk coolant fluid could spill onto sensitive electronic components.

“We have made the Volt even safer,” Reuss declared during his remarks, adding that if he didn’t think the Volt was already safe “I wouldn’t allow” his own family to continue using the vehicle on a daily basis.


Ford Insists its Battery Cars Will be Safe

Maker has taken added steps to prevent post-crash fires.

by on Dec.14, 2011

A Ford Focus Electric using a high-speed charger.

Clearly concerned by the controversy that’s erupted over fires involving the Chevrolet Volt’s lithium-ion batteries, Ford Motor Co. officials pointedly stressed that they have gone to extremes to ensure there won’t be problems when they launch an array of lithium-powered products in the coming year.

Ford provided an inside look at their “electrified” line-up today, a mix of hybrids, plug-in hybrids and pure battery-electric vehicles, or BEVs, that the maker hopes will position it as one of the leaders in the growing green automotive niche.

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“The goal is to focus on affordable, sustainable technologies, not for 100s of customers or thousands, but for millions,” said Derrick Kuzak, Ford’s global product development chief, who added that the maker “will triple the production capacity for electrified vehicles to 100,000 by 2013.”


Transpo Chief LaHood Denies Hiding Volt Defect

NHTSA facing Congressional scrutiny.

by on Dec.09, 2011

GM CEO Dan Akerson is being grilled by a Republican House leader over Volt battery concerns.

The nation’s top automotive regulator is denying his department attempted to hide a potentially serious safety problem with the Chevrolet Volt.

Despite waiting months before revealing that one of the plug-in hybrids had caught fire after a May crash test, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said his department needed time to see what actually caused the fire in a yard used to hold vehicles after they were tested.

The incident – and a second test-related fire, last month, involving a Volt – have raised concerns about the safety of the Chevy hatchback’s battery pack.  But while the DoT’s automotive arm, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, has begun a formal investigation of the Volt, the initial delay has led critics to question if there was a political motive at work.

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“Absolutely not true,” countered LaHood when asked about the criticism, which is largely being fueled by Republicans, including California Congressman Darrell Issa.


Potential Buyers Steering Clear of Volt as House Schedules Probe

GM reportedly may have fix for fire problem.

by on Dec.07, 2011

The Chevrolet Volt, shown here with its lithium-ion battery pack.

Potential buyers seem to be steering clear of the Chevrolet Volt in the wake of reports that the plug-in hybrid experienced several fires following federal crash tests – which could pose a serious problem for General Motors as it prepares for a sharp ramp-up in production for 2012.

Meanwhile, a House panel has scheduled a hearing next month to look into the safety of the Chevy Volt – and the way the Obama Administration has handled the investigation so far.  The nation’s top transportation official, despite three fires involving the Volt after testing, has declared the plug-in “safe to drive.”

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Separately, GM is reportedly studying changes to the Volt’s battery pack to prevent the possibility of fire after a crash.  Such a fix could be announced in a matter of weeks, according to the Detroit Free Press.

The crisis began last month when the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration first reported that a Volt it had subjected to a side-impact crash test in May caught fire three weeks later.  Another series of tests last month resulted in a second fire, with a third battery sputtering and smoking.