DETROIT (WWJ/AP) – It’s not a formal “recall” but General Motors is asking Chevy Volt owners to bring their electric cars back to their dealer who will add more safety features to the battery compartment.
“This is a customer satisfaction program, which is voluntary, that we’re choosing to do,” explained the automaker’s Mary Barra during a conference call Thursday morning.
“You know, the real question for us is are our customers satisfied. And we look at this and we wanna provide that piece of mind to make sure that they understand that even in a very severe side crash that their vehicle doesnt have an issue in the days and weeks after that type of incident,” she said.
GM will strengthen the structure around the batteries in its Volt electric cars to keep them safe during crashes, asking Volt owners to return the cars to dealers for structural modifications.
GM North America President Mark Reuss told reporters the company wants to make the repairs as painless as possible.
“It’s a two hour-type … two to three hour thing and it’s a day of service, typically is what we’re allowing for it,” Reuss said.
GM’s move is considered a step below a recall, which would be issued by a car company and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The fixes will involve about 8,000 Volts sold in the U.S. in the past two years. GM is making the repairs after three Volt batteries caught fire following crash tests done by federal safety regulators. The fires occurred seven days to three weeks after tests and have been blamed on a coolant leak that caused an electrical short.
NHTSA and GM have said the electric cars are safe and that no fires have occurred after crashes on real-world roadways.
The Volt has a T-shaped, 400 pound battery pack that can power the car for about 35 miles. After that, a small gasoline generator kicks in to run the electric motor.
NHTSA has been investigating the batteries after a Volt caught fire in June at a crash test facility in Wisconsin. The fire broke out three weeks after a side-impact crash test.
GM said the Volt’s battery should have been drained after the crash, but it never told NHTSA to do that. Later, two GM executives said the company had no formal procedure to drain the batteries until after the June fire. GM has said that the liquid solution used to cool the Volt’s battery leaked and crystallized, causing an electrical short that touched off the fire.
The company now sends out a team to drain the batteries after being notified of a crash by GM’s OnStar safety system.
The Wall Street Journal reports that a group of owners, including former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, published an open letter saying they are keeping their Volts. The editor in chief of GQ magazine also published an open letter, asking GM if he could purchase a returned Volt.
The company sold 7,671 Volts last year, falling short of its goal of 10,000. It was outsold last year by its main electric car competitor, the Nissan Leaf, at 9,674.
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