But the real problem may no longer be a technical one, but one of dented consumer confidence. Customers are handing back the keys in droves.
At first, when the problem first came to light, chief executive Dan Akerson offered to buy back Volt models from any concerned customers.
Then, when dozens of customers came forward wanting to hand back the keys to their cars, the company changed tack.
Rather than automatically buying back the Volts, and thus losing its as yet tiny army of early adopters of electric motoring technology, GM started offering them some 6,000 free loan cars while awaiting the outcome of an investigation into the fires.
And here’s why:
It now appears the fire hazard was first discovered back in June, when GM first heard about a fire in a Volt that occurred some three weeks after the vehicle had been crash tested.
Yet, almost five months went by before either GM or the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) told dealers and customers about the potential risks and urged them to drain the battery pack as soon as possible after an accident.
Part of the reason for delaying the disclosure was the “fragility of Volt sales” up until that point, according to Joan Claybrook, a former administrator at NHTSA.
“NHTSA could have put out a consumer alert,” he said, according to industry website Autoguide.com.
“Not to tell [customers] for six months makes no sense to me. They have a duty to inform people when they’ve rated a vehicle as ‘top rated’ and make it clear there’s a problem.”
While it isn’t surprising that GM was reluctant to announce product safety bulletins that would dampen early sales of its much touted hybrid, according to the linked story the NHTSA was an accessory to this as well, and for the same reason:
“Part of the reason for delaying the disclosure was the ‘fragility of Volt sales’ up until that point, according to Joan Claybrook, a former administrator at NHTSA.”
At Autoguide.com, there’s a story saying that Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood responded today saying the accusations were “absolutely not true.”
“We have opened an investigation into battery-related fires that may occur some time after a severe crash,” LaHood said. “Chevy Volt owners can be confident that their cars are safe to drive.”
Meanwhile, the National Legal and Policy Center (NLPC) filed a formal request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for any and all communications with General Motors (GM).