GM CEO Says Politics Played Role in Volt Probe

By John Crawley | January 25, 2012

General Motors’ chief executive plans to tell lawmakers that he believes politics motivated a U.S. government investigation of battery fires in Chevy Volts.

In testimony prepared for delivery at a House Oversight Committee hearing on Wednesday, Dan Akerson said it appears the Volt became, “perhaps unfairly”, a surrogate for election-year politics and commentary on GM’s business and Obama administration policy.

President Barack Obama has heavily promoted electric vehicles like the Volt, and his administration oversaw a U.S. government bailout and bankruptcy restructuring of GM in 2009.

Akerson said electric vehicle technology remains unfamiliar to most consumers, also part of the likely explanation for why the fires received “disproportionate” scrutiny.

“These factors should not be discounted as to why federal regulators opened an investigation into the Volt’s battery safety,” Akerson said.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration opened an investigation on Nov. 25 into the safety of the Volt’s battery pack after its own repeated tests uncovered fire risks.

The fires occurred after NHTSA crash tests or other tests where the car’s lithium-ion batteries were purposely damaged, and GM has stressed that no “real world” incidents have been reported.

NHTSA ended its probe last week, satisfied with GM’s plans to place steel reinforcements around the battery pack to protect it from crash damage. GM also plans changes to prevent coolant leaks, which can trigger fires.

However, news of regulatory and congressional investigations about fire risks with the Volt have cast a shadow over the plug-in car, which is GM’s signature product in its bid to lead on fuel efficiency. First-year sales of the vehicle were disappointing.

Congressional investigators with the oversight panel have sought documents and summoned Akerson to testify along with the Obama administration’s top auto safety regulator, David Strickland, who heads NHTSA.

(Reporting By John Crawley; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)

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