As has become their habit, Edmunds continues to display reckless disregard in reporting and commenting on the Volt. A WSJ article
had the following quote from Edmund's Chief Executive:
"It's not like the same thing can't happen in regular vehicles, but we are dealing with a new technology and people have questions," Jeremy Anwyl, chief executive of car-research firm Edmunds.com, said Friday. "Anytime you hear about a battery exploding, it's not a good thing."
Let's be clear. No batteries have exploded
. In the initial test over the summer the battery caught fire 3 weeks after the test
. The battery was left fully charged
, even though if this had been a real crash the first step would have been to immediately discharge the battery
The NHSTA then tried to replicate this with the battery in the car and could not, so then they took the batteries out of the car and started crashing just the battery. Fair enough, because they want to understand what is happening. And after having successfully compromised the battery, they again leave it fully charged to see what will happen. You have 16kwh of energy densely packed, if you have a short, sparks and fire are inevitable. That they haven't been able to induce fire in a compromised battery every time is the only surprising thing.
Again, even removing the battery from the car and intentionally damaging the battery, it took hours, days and weeks before the fire started
. Fire, not explosion. Plenty of time for vehicle occupants to get out, and for the battery to be discharged
. Presumably discharging the battery would have prevented all of these fires.
After a crash test the NHSTA drains gasoline from the tanks as standard procedure. Even though GM has stated you must discharge the batter immediately after a severe crash, for the purposes of these test the NHSTA is not doing that
. Presumably so that we can understand how long you have to discharge and thus secure the battery before a potentional fire. Also so that we can understand exactly what is happening, which could lead to an understanding of how to reduce the risk of fire even more.
We will never completely eradicate the risk of fire with Lithium batteries, just as we have not eradicated the risk of fire with gasoline tanks. For car fires, we have reduced that risk greatly, but they still happen by the hundreds of thousands every year. We have just learned to except that risk, well sort of, the automakers still get sued for millions every year for fires started by gasoline tanks. Unless we are willing to drive around in Sherman Tanks the risk will always be there.
For me, the tests are reassuring, in that shoud I be involved in a severe crash I would have plenty of time to get out or be extracted from the vehicle before a fire would start from the battery. I would much rather take my chances with a battery, than with a gasoline tank. And yes in the case of the Volt there is also a gas tank but it is much smaller and much stronger than standard tanks.
The Leaf has not been implicated in any testing. The Leaf uses a different chemistry than the Volt. It may be that chemistry or it may be that the coolant used in the Volt is implicated, whereas the Leaf does not use active cooling, but rather has an insulating gel that may remain nonconductive even in a compromised battery. This is the very sort of question the NHTSA tests seek to answer.
Car fires are not an insignificant threat. 215,000 car fires occured in 2010. Every one of those in a petroleum based car. At the end of the day based on what we currently know, the difficulty with which fire can be induced in an electric vehicle and the long delay before said fire will occur gives the advantage to the electric vehicle over an internal combustion vehicle in fire safety. Undoubtedly GM et al will only get better at understanding how to prevent fires with Li batteries. The NHTSA findings could just as easily be reported using the headline above.