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EV battery fire sparks debate

United States – US safety regulators have released more details of a Chevrolet Volt fire that has caused officials to look into post-crash protocols for electric vehicles (EVs). The fire occurred more than three weeks after the plug-in hybrid Sedan was crashed as part of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s New Car Assessment Program in May.

The Chevrolet Volt is one of the first fully electric-powered cars built on a mass scale. Officials from the NHTSA say the crash damaged the Volt’s lithium-ion battery and that this damage eventually caused the fire. ‘That incident – which occurred at the test facility and caused property damage but no injuries – remains the only case of a battery-related fire in a crash or crash test of vehicles powered by lithium-ion batteries, despite a number of other rigorous crash tests of the Chevy Volt separately conducted by both NHTSA and General Motors,’ NHTSA regulators have said in a statement.

Since EVs represent new technology just coming to the market, regulators want to develop protocols for post-crash situations to make sure that consumers and emergency responders are not hurt and that damaged vehicles are stored in a manner to prevent a fire at a later time. The agency has asked all EV manufacturers to provide information on the protocols they have established for discharging and handling their lithium-ion batteries, including any recommendations for reducing the fire risk. ‘Ultimately, we hope the information we gather will lay the groundwork for detailed guidance for first-responders and tow truck operators for use in their work responding to incidents involving these vehicles,’ the agency has said.

General Motors Co., which owns the Chevrolet brands, insists the Volt is safe, adding that it is working ‘co-operatively with NHTSA as it completes its investigation’. There is no indication whether the NHTSA will investigate practices at the dismantling or recycling stages.

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