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Chevrolet Volt fire prompts safety probe of electric vehicle batteries

The plug-in hybrid sedan caught fire after a crash test. Federal regulators will look at the safety of batteries from several vehicles.

November 12, 2011|By Jerry Hirsch, Los Angeles Times

Federal safety officials have launched a probe into whether the batteries in Chevrolet's Volt plug-in hybrid sedan are prone to fires.

The probe by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration was launched after a Volt caught fire following a crash test, General Motors Co. said. The agency will be looking at the safety of batteries from several makes of electric vehicles, according to the Associated Press.

The Volt is designed to run off its batteries for about 40 miles. When the batteries run low, a gasoline engine kicks in and functions as a generator, powering the electric motors and extending the range of the sedan to more than 300 miles.

Other electric cars currently for sale include the Nissan Leaf and Tesla Roadster. Several other automakers, including Ford, Mitsubishi and Toyota plan to launch sales of electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids in the coming months.

General Motors Co., which owns the Chevrolet brands, said the Volt is safe.

"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," said Jim Federico, GM's chief engineer for electric vehicles.

"Safety protocols for electric vehicles are clearly an industry concern. At GM, we have safety protocols to depower the battery of an electric vehicle after a significant crash," he said.

"We are working with other vehicle manufacturers, first responders, tow truck operators and salvage associations with the goal of implementing industrywide protocols," Federico said.

GM shares fell 19 cents, or about 1%, to close at $22.51 Friday.

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