GM Promises Minor Upgrades to Chevrolet Volt after NHTSA Investigation

General Motors said today it will make some minor changes to the Chevrolet Volt after a fire engulfed one of the cars at a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration facility two weeks after it was crash tested.

The revisions involve protecting the coolant system tasked with maintaining temperatures for the LG Chem-sourced lithium-ion battery pack. GM is beefing up the safety structure that already surrounds the battery pack, adding a tamper-proof bracket to the battery coolant reservoir, and installing a sensor to monitor battery coolant levels.

All of this is minor enough that General Motors promised it will retroactively upgrade all of the roughly 12,000 Volts that are at dealers or in driveways in the United States, and provide a similar program to overseas customers of the Opel/ Vauxhall/ Holden Ampera. Because all Chevrolet Volts are still under warranty, the process will cost nothing to owners, and GM says the process will take two to three hours at a dealer.

This comes weeks after the automaker was faced a problem: one of its Volts caught fire in a NHTSA parking lot some time after performing in a rollover crash test. Mary Barra, GM’s Senior Vice President of Global Product Development, claimed that there was an intrusion into the battery coolant reservoir during a side impact, and about a quarter-cup of coolant leaked onto a printed circuit board when the car was subsequently rolled. That coolant created a short circuit, which, combined with a fully charged battery, created a fire.

“These enhancements and modifications will address the concerns raised by the severe crash tests,” Barra said. “There are no changes to the Volt battery pack or cell chemistry as a result of these actions. We have tested the Volt’s battery system for more than 285,000 hours, or 25 years, of operation. We’re as confident as ever that the cell design is among the safest on the market.”

At last check, GM offered roughly 8000 Volt owners a loaner car, or a full buyback of the extended-range electric vehicle. GM North America President Mark Reuss said Thursday that only 250 people stepped up to accept either offer, although he did not say exactly how many asked for the buyback.

The new upgrade program, according to GM, should prevent any intrusions into the battery cell or coolant reservoir, the reservoir from being overfilled with coolant, and provide warnings if the coolant levels are either too low or high.

GM will roll out its program -- which it was careful to call a Customer Satisfaction Program, not a government-mandated recall -- starting in February. Meanwhile, all Volts produced at the Detroit-Hamtramck plant in 2012 will feature the upgrades; the plant is currently shut down for the holidays but is scheduled to resume production shortly.

Source: GM

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