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Feds open inquiry into Volt battery safety

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will investigate Chevy Volt battery safety after its side crash tests, followed by a simulated rollover, result in electrical fires.

A photo of a GM crash test on the Chevy Volt. The battery pack is the T-shaped orange box. General Motors

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on Friday opened a formal investigation into the safety of the battery packs in the Chevy Volt following a series of collision tests.

In three tests since May, the NHTSA has found that damage to the Volt's battery resulted in a fire after a side collision and a rotation of 180 degrees, a test meant to simulate impact with a pole or tree followed by a rollover. In each case, the line which carries coolant to the batteries was ruptured.

In the initial test, battery temperatures rose following the simulated crash and rollover, and an electrical fire started more than three weeks later. No Chevy Volts sold have had any safety problems, the NHTSA said.

"However, the agency is concerned that damage to the Volt's batteries as part of three tests that are explicitly designed to replicate real-world crash scenarios have resulted in fire. NHTSA is therefore opening a safety defect investigation of Chevy Volts, which could experience a battery-related fire following a crash. Chevy Volt owners whose vehicles have not been in a serious crash do not have reason for concern," it said in a statement.

The NHTSA statement also noted that no electric vehicles from other manufacturers have raised concerns over safety defects.

In response, General Motors today said it is creating an engineering team to develop potential changes to allay safety concerns.

"The Volt is a five-star safety car. Even though no customer has experienced in the real world what was identified in this latest testing of post-crash situations, we're taking critical steps to ensure customer satisfaction and safety," GM president Mark Reuss said in a statement.

GM also said it would start a vehicle loan program to Volt owners concerned about safety. The company would loan a GM vehicle to those owners at no cost until the issue is resolved.