Just in time for Christmas, another potential gift for the GOP.
Following on from the announcement that GM is looking at redesigning the Chevrolet Volt's lithium-ion battery system in the wake of several highly publicized fires resulting from test crashes, comes further news that both the automaker and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration delayed disclosure of their original findings by months.
Apparently, way back in June, General Motors heard about a Volt fire that happened three weeks after said vehicle was crash tested, yet it wasn't until November that the company, nor NHTSA disclosed there was a potential problem, urging both dealers and customers to drain the battery pack immediately following an accident.
As a result the public relations nightmare surrounding Chevy's halo vehicle appears to be deepening, though a good deal of the blame in this case also rests with NHTSA.
Joan Claybrook, a former adminstrator at NHTSA believes part of the reason for the delay was the "fragility of Volt sales." Yet she also believes that "NHTSA could have put out a consumer alert, not to tell them [customers] for six months makes no sense to me."
GM designed a complex cooling system for the Volt's lithium ion battery pack to help regulate its temperature (lithium-ion units are known for overheating), yet until July it hadn't finalized a standard proceedure to power down the battery system, the Volt had already been on sale in the US for six months at that juncture.
The Insurance Institute of Highway Safety, which crash tested a Volt back in February reported no incidents of fire as resulting from the accident, yet when a second crash test was performed in August, General Motors sent a technician to power down the battery.
As an aside, GM evidently didn't expect the large number of Volt owners who want to take advantage of their buy back offer in the wake of the battery fires. They have walked back their initial offer and now say they will make loaner cars available for this Volt owners who want the battery fixed.
There is more here than either GM or the NHTSA is letting on. Were there additional reports of battery fires besides the two that have been publicized following crashes? We don't know at this point. There is also the question of whether or not pressure was put on by the White House to suppress the reports. Given the Solyndra bankruptcy, this White House appears to have enormous political sensitivity to their "green" initiatives going bad.