I don't know how others feel, but as a potential owner of the Chevy Volt (or any other vehicle, for that matter), I'm not that interested in what's to blame for the fire--the LiOn battery or a circuit board or whatever. I'm simply interested in ensuring that the vehicle I purchase is safe and not susceptible to sudden and explosive fires. That said, I applaud GM's efforts to shore up the battery safety structure and I do understand the PR effect of making sure the batteries (the heart and soul of the EV vehicle) don't take the hit for the mishap.
I agree Beth. It seems in this chase GM handled the situation well. Both the quick program to take back the vehciles and the fast moves to uncover the soruce of the problem. It's refreshing to see a company not jump to hide its flaws.
You're right, Jenn. Just ask Toyota about the accelerators). I was good corporate citizenship, but I would guess GM was also mighty concerned about making sure its EV didn't get a bad rap so soon out of the gate. A couple fires on the road could hurt the whole concept of EVs.
This is a proactive solution where certainly puts GM in a stronger position, market wise. They're addressing the problem instead of burying it, Pinto-like. At the same time, there's the reality that batteries will always be subject to fires under certain conditions (heat, impact). Probably equaling important is wider education for emergency service personnel on how to handle cars which have high voltage electrics when they're in accidents. This is super critical, because one day a cop, fireman, or EMT is unfortunately going to be electrocuted when they're trying to free someone from an EV if this training doesn't become mandatory.
Alexander, All EV's are hazardous for first responders. Whenever an EV is involved in an incident, all of the rescuers must be extra cautious to prevent the inadvertent electrocution of participants. This problem of familiarization with risks is not a new problem however. For nearly a century, their have been procedures (evolving for sure) to deal with the real threats that are present at every incident.
The EV and all of the newer cars have added risks, that just cannot be assessed effectively, for first responders. Their systems are so complicated and varied that education of the personnel is just not feasable. Neither is it supported by the manufacturers! Just try to get the specs for the locations of all of the air bags, actuators and explosive charges in any new car. All of the hazards at a scene contribute to the time that it takes to provide the services that save lives.
We should all lobby for automobile manufacturers to publish detailed extracation information of every vehicle they build, in an online, public forum as soon as their design is completed. In the case of the Volt, GM had (has) to send out a special team after every incident to drain the battery and make the vehicle safe, as I understand.
BTW, First responders have ALREADY been injured and killed by these automobiles. Thank you for recognizing the problem though. I salute you for that!
Hearing about this for the past months made it look like some sort of an esoteric defect. All the while its simply a PC board failure. Good grief.
I gots to say, that board should have been sealed - and whatever exposure - should have been detected and fixed.
Be that as it may- this oversight by project management is a flag to all EV drives-whomever.
War story: Way back in the stone age we had two fully loaded standard size 19" cabinets. Naturally, at that time the heaviest component the power supply mounted below. A wonderful heater we didn't need and which unwanted heat we didn't provide for.
So...we had to add a fan on top of the cabinet. Now it wouldn't fit through a standard size door-spec'd in the contract. But all functions passed. The customer (a nat'l lab) saw no reason to worry having to tilt the cabinet through a doorway. But our competition yelled unfair.
Now we have a meeting. Must have been 15 people for half a morning - all over - what. A dumb fan.
I've got a war story about a coolant leak causing a car fire. It happened years back in my first Nissan Sentra, a model with consistently good repair records. Unbeknown to anyone, including me or my mechanic, the coolant well was damaged in an accident. In a Rube Goldberg-like series of events, over a few months a slow leak gradually destroyed a gasket which somehow exposed some wires (I forget the details after 25 years). One night, after parking my car in the small garage attached to my apartment building and pulling the door down, I happened to see a faint glow underneath the car. If there had been a streetlight in the wrong place or if the garage had lacked a door, I would never have seen it. It was flame in the underbody reflecting off the floor--I was actually witnessing the beginning of a fire in my car, moments after I'd stopped driving it and moments before I would have left it locked in the garage. Fortunately, the fire department got there in time.
This discussion makes me wonder why things aren't sealed off better from each other to prevent such failures. Or is it just too jammed up in these small engines and engine compartments?
I honestly blame this on how cars are designed not, on a desktop via a computer. I have come across some bone headed things in my years of vehicle ownership, where if the designer had physically gone over the design as cars were assembled. Example: A previous truck I owned placed an exhaust pipe just to the rear of the engine. This particular pipe crossed the exhaust from the driver's side to the passenger side. Its location was relatively close to the oil pan drain. Now this drain was placed so it was perfectly horizontal and pointing straight at the above exhaust pipe. SO whenever the drain plug was removed the oil would shoot all over the exhaust pipe. I used to place a cut coffee can over the pipe to prevent this. All of this could have been avoided if the drain plug had been tilted downward. Simple change, but the effect would have been much easier oil changes. If you do any sort of periodic maintenance on a vehicle you run into things like this all the time, like zerk fitting pointing up making them difficult to reach, when if they had been placed on the bottom or side would have made life easier.
This is a good story, Lou. Want to submit it for a Made by Monkeys posting? You would need to flesh out the story a bit. We shoot for 350 or more words. You're close on this. We would also need the make of car.
If you're interested, let me know at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Intersting article. Although I am a bit puzzled by GM response. It was apparently proven that the cause of the fire was leaking coolant casing a short circuit on a circuit card. The changes were additional steel to protect the battery from being deformed in a side impact, a sensor on the coolant, and a bracket to prevent overfilling. None of those changes seem to address how the coolant leaked out, or the circuit card that shorted out because of the coolant leak.
I was thinking the same thing about this article Lou. It is as if half of the facts are missing as to the real reson for all of the extra precautions while not saying one word about how they will contain the coolant or prevent another circuit board short. From the information provided, if the same tests were performed again, the results would more than likely be the same.
Let's face it there is never going to be a fool proof way to contain the coolant, so the fix will fall to the circuit card, probably in the form a coating, or relocating it to an area where coolant, even if leaked will not come into contact with the circuit board in question. The other glaring issue is the fire occurred 5 days after the roll over test. Seems to me this is also going to involve some sort of way to disconnect power post-accident. I am assuming the circuit board got is power from the battery cell. I am also wondering if this roll over test was not "violent" enough to cause any safety feature that would have disconnected the battery. Too many questions, not enough detail to make any sort of analysis.
I agree, I don't understand why they are beefing up the side support if supposedly that's not where the leak occured. The mentioned it was a slow roll test, I would assume a car flipped over for a prolonged time would be even worse, more time for the coolant to leak to the circuit board.
I am not a fan of the Volt, but I do have to think that when we first started making car fueled by such a dangerous fuel as gasoline a hundred years ago I am sure there was a lot of public fear and concern. Some of it was proved true, I'm sure but we learned how to deal with gasoline spillls.
There are those that voiced the same concerns over hydrogen powered cars. They all remember the film clip of the Hindenburg. I read an opinion that stated that hydrogen is somewhat safer in th event of leak because it disapates faster. It doesn't just lay in a puddle on the ground like gasoline.
I doubt very much that when cars were first fueled with gasoline that there was any large public concern about the dangerous fuel. At least, not in the USA. The high ambient fear level is caused primarily by those who thrive on being fearmongers, and has very little to do with anything actually being worthy of being afraid of. A hundred years ago most people considered that they were responsible for their personal safety, and that they could not always depend on somebody else every time they had a problem.
Now as for the battery catching fire three weeks after a crash, I hope that the occupants would be out of the damaged vehicle by then, and well out of harms way. Three weeks after a crash the vehicle would normally be either scrapped or in the process of being repaired, so the condition is really unrealistic. Besides all of that, given that it would be known that it was a battery vehicle, after the crash there could be a mandatory battery disabling procedure developed and published, and distributed to all those who handle wrecked cars.
The pole test side impact is a test to simulate a side impact of a vehicle. It probably is a fair simulation of a car being hit by another car running through a red light. Is that a high-percentage type of accident? What is the probability that such an impact would cause a catastrophic battery problem within a few minutes? Would the battery cause a fire upon such an impact? is the battery driven car more dangerous in this aspect than other cars? My guess is that it is not, and as long as the occupants exit the vehicle within a day or so they should be safe.
All of us are currently driving around on top of a big plastic tank full of gasoline, an improvised rolling bomb as it were. You can crawl under your car and touch it with your hands, there's no exoskeleton fortress built around it. I know the volt is a threat to Big Oil, so once this issue is dealt with by Chevy the next "issue" will be created by the BO lobby. .
So then GM is going to make the battery resistant to damage arising from the stipulated test conditions, but when a crash occurs that exceeds the definitions of those test conditions (and it WILL happen to somebody, are we still going to have the same fire issues?
Another question I can't seem to get an answer to. Hav GM and the battery manufacturer provided the Lithium-Ion battery with cell balancing provisions? If not, it's my view that the battery is a fire threat for entirely different reasons than I see being discussed.
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