Behind the Wheel with Phil Lebeau

General Motors Tries to Reassure Volt Owners

In this handout image provided by General Motors, The first pre-production Chevrolet Volt is on the assembly line at the Detroit-Hamtramck manufacturing plant in Detroit, Michigan.
John F. Martin, General Motors

Give GM credit.

With questions swirling around the safety of the Chevy Voltfollowing the launch of a federal investigation of battery fires in the car, the company is trying to reassure Volt owners and potential buyers.

The question is whether it will have much impact.

For Volt owners GM is sending a letteroutlining what the company knows about the NHTSA investigation and why GM believes the Volt is safe.

On a conference call with reporters, the President of GM North America, Mark Reuss was emphatic in calling the Volt safe. "We don't think there is an immediate fire risk," said Reuss. "We are going to make this technology and electrification the best that we can. You know the internal combustion engine has 100 years of experience with it. This is safer, or I believe this is safer, than any internal combustion engine car."

Reuss may have a legitimate point. Heck, the Wall Street Journalreported there are more than 250,000 vehicle fires every year in the US causing around 500 deaths. Still, nobody is worried about the cars we're driving because we've had more than a century of experience with internal combustion engines.

What if Volt owners are worried about their safety? GM is offering those owners loaner cars (not Volts) while the NHTSA investigation takes place and GM looks into what changes, if any, may be needed with the Volt.

How much will this investigation hurt Volt sales, and by extension, GM? It's too soon to tell. GM is promising transparency as it works with federal investigators. The head of GM Global Product Development, Mary Barra, says the company has yet to pinpoint the root cause of fires in battery packs damaged in extreme crash tests. But she suggested the fires would not have happened if the batteries had been de-powered after the tests.

It's early in the Volt investigation. For GM, it's just the start of working to make sure the car it's invested so heavily in, doesn't come back to haunt them.

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