By Rick Manning — The Chevy Volt has become the car that many people love to hate. Now, many more are asking if federal regulators treated the Volt differently than any other vehicle.
A symbol of the government bailout and continued ownership of General Motors, the Volt has been hailed as the vehicle of the future by the Obama Administration’s green energy pushers.
Now, the Volt is in danger of taking down the entire electric car industry as concerns about fire hazards involving the vehicles battery cooling system are creating a backlash across the nation.
The timing of the fire hazard is particularly alarming as it comes close on the heels of the Administration’s announcement that they are increasing fuel efficiency standards up to an average of 54.5 miles per gallon of gasoline by 2025. The standards were set with the expectation that consumers would increasingly choose electric vehicles as the technology became more accepted.
The Volt fire hazard was first discovered by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in June of this year after a vehicle caught fire three weeks after a crash test. Yet, neither GM nor the NHTSA told dealers or Volt owners about the potential risks. Further, neither GM nor the NHTSA issued instructions for dealers or consumers to drain the batter pack as soon as possible after an accident, leaving unsuspecting customers vulnerable to an avoidable fire danger.
And with that, Claybrook inadvertently lays out one of the real dangers of the federal government owning General Motors, the likelihood that the government will manipulate or delay the application of enforcement standards and regulations against government owned companies.
Compare the NHTSA’s benign response to the Volt fires to their reaction to the allegations at the beginning of 2011 that Toyota was having a problem with “instant acceleration,” supposedly causing traffic accidents.
The same NHTSA which gave GM a virtual pass on their Volt fire danger for months, raced to fine Toyota $16 million and put its public relations machinery to work deriding the company for putting consumers at risk. Lawsuits were filed, Congress was in a tizzy, and Toyota paid a huge price as their reputation for quality was tarnished and their vehicles languished on the lots.
After a six month battering, it was found that the “instant acceleration” problem was actually driver error, and not Toyota’s fault at all. As one might guess, little effort was made by the government to undo the damage done to one of their chief automaker competitors.
Now, as we end 2011, it is not all that surprising to discover that the official government regulatory agency responsible for vehicle safety has apparently engaged in what can only be termed “political shenanigans” by attempting to help GM survive their disastrous investment in the Chevy Volt. Unfortunately, in this instance, the favoritism could have been deadly to consumers.
However, in a world where the U.S. government owns a stake in General Motors, and the President has staked his political reputation on the decision to bail them out, it should not surprise anyone that the President’s political appointees would be engaged in what appears to be political rather than regulatory decision making.
In fact, it would be surprising if these appointees did anything else.
Consumer advocate Ralph Nader made his name by condemning another General Motors product, the Chevette, in his iconic book, “Unsafe at any speed.” Ironically, the Chevy Volt is apparently most dangerous when it is simply parked in the garage with the ignition switch turned off.
In a related story, the Charlotte Observer reports that investigators have determined that a Chevy Volt’s electric charger unit was not responsible for a garage fire that caused $800,000 damage to an Iredell, North Carolina home. No mention was made in the story as to whether authorities have turned their attention to the recently revealed battery fire issue.
Rick Manning is the Director of Communications of Americans for Limited Government. You can follow Rick on Twitter at @RManning957.