Thursday, January 26, 2012

House Hearing Indicates Chevy Volt Has No Defects

Jan 25: The House Ovesight & Government Reform Committee, Chaired by Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA), Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs, Stimulus Oversight and Government Spending, Chaired by Representative Jim Jordan (R-OH), held a hearing entitled, "Volt Vehicle Fire: What Did NHTSA Know and When Did They Know It?" Witnesses included: David L. Strickland, Administrator National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA); Daniel Akerson, Chairman and CEO General Motors; and John German, Senior Fellow and Program Director for the International Council on Clean Transportation.
    A Republican committee staff report indicates, "The delayed public notification of serious safety concerns relating to the Chevy Volt raises significant concerns regarding the unnatural relationship between General Motors (GM), Chrysler and the Obama Administration. Rather than allowing GM and Chrysler to enter into a traditional bankruptcy process, the Obama Administration intervened and forced the companies to participate in a politically orchestrated process. The result was that GM and Chrysler emerged as quasi-private entities, partially owned by the United States government.
    "President Obama has used this unusual blurring of public and private sector boundaries to openly tout the results of this partnership as a top accomplishment of his Administration -- creating a dynamic where the President is politically reliant on the success of GM and Chrysler. Moreover, in the case of GM, the Administration has offered substantial taxpayer funded subsidies to encourage production of the Volt, such as $151.4 million in stimulus funds for a Michigan-based company that produces lithium-ion polymer battery cells for the Volt as well as $105 million directly to GM. It has also extended a significant subsidy to encourage consumers to purchase the vehicle, offering buyers of the Volt a federal tax credit of up to $7,500 per vehicle.
    "In the face of that political dependency, it is deeply troubling that public notification of the safety concerns related to the Volt was inexplicably delayed for six months – a period of time that also coincides with the negotiation over the 2017-2025 fuel economy standards. The necessity of a full explanation for NHTSA's silence concerning the Volt's safety risk has been compounded by its lack of cooperation with the Committee."
    NHTSA testified, ". . .we have concluded the agency's investigation and have found no discernible defect trend. The vehicle modifications recently developed by GM effectively address the issue of battery intrusion and they have included this modification as they manufacture new vehicles going forward. NHTSA continues to believe that electric vehicles show great promise as a safe and fuel-efficient option for American drivers."
    GM's Akerson testified, "We engineered the Volt to be among the safest vehicles on the road – earning an overall NHTSA 5 Stars for occupant safety and a Top Safety Pick from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. We engineered the Volt to be a technological wonder. . . In other words, we engineered the Volt to be the only current EV on the road that you can drive across town or across the country without fear of being stranded when the battery power is depleted. . .
    ". . .the Volt's entry into the market came soon after GM's emergence from its government rescue and restructuring -- and during this political season. As such, the Volt seems, perhaps unfairly, to have become a surrogate for some to offer broader
commentary on General Motors' business prospects and Administration policy." Following some concerns raised by NHTSA, Akerson said, "GM volunteered to conduct a Customer Satisfaction Program and implement structural and cooling system enhancements to further protect the Volt battery from the possibility of an electrical fire occurring days or weeks after a severe side crash. . .
    "It's also important that we reaffirm our commitment to the Volt's battery technology, and the actions we are taking have nothing to do with the battery pack itself. None of these changes will touch the battery cell or pack. As a result, we will not change any part of the manufacturing process at our Brownstown, Michigan, battery pack assembly plant. We have tested the Volt's battery system for more than 285,000 hours, or 25 years, of operation. It's important to note, the battery cell design used in the Volt was not the cause of the incidents that prompted the investigation. . .
    "Since news of the investigation broke, a couple of hundred out of our nearly eight thousand owners have requested either a loaner vehicle or a potential buy back. And that's no surprise as 93% of Volt owners in a recent Consumer Reports survey report
the highest customer satisfaction with their vehicles -- more than any other vehicle and the highest ever recorded by this respected third party. . . We have treated this process with NHTSA with the highest level of urgency and seriousness from day one. For its part, NHTSA has certainly been very thorough in this process and we have responded accordingly. In closing, the Volt is safe. It's a marvelous machine. It represents so much of what is right at GM and, frankly, American ingenuity and manufacturing."
    Representative Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), the Ranking Member on the Subcommittee said, "If I thought there was any kind of a cover-up in efforts by GM or NHTSA to protect consumer safety, I would not tolerate it. Today, I saw no such evidence. Based on what we know so far, NHTSA's New Car Assessment Program appeared to do just what it is supposed to do: catch potential safety concerns with new cars before they become a risk to consumers. And General Motors appeared to do exactly what we would hope it would do….So far, we have seen no evidence to support the implication that NHTSA has allowed politics to guide its decision-making."
    Rep. Kucinich said further, "A very detailed, one-hundred-and-thirty-five page final report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on its investigation into the Volt Battery Fire Incident … provides detailed answers to the question this hearing seems to ask. Considering that in the last few months there have been efforts by the majority to defund programs that support the development of technologies for electric and alternative fuel vehicles, and other proposals to take away tax incentives for purchasing electric cars, I am concerned that an effect of this hearing could be to undermine technology that is critical to both protecting the environment and ensuring the success of the U.S. auto manufacturing industry, as well as U.S. economic competitiveness generally. The Chevy Volt has helped to propel the resurgence of GM, and the jobs that come with it. Technologies developed for the Volt have been adopted on other vehicles to increase their efficiency, desirability and marketability."
    Access the Republican hearing website for links to the testimony, staff report and video (click here). Access a release from Rep. Kucinich (click here). [#Transport/Electric, #MITransport/Electric]