Bloomberg News

GM May Change Volt Battery, Product Development Chief Says

December 06, 2011

(Updates shares in the final paragraph.)

Dec. 2 (Bloomberg) -- General Motors Co. hasn’t ruled out making changes to the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid’s lithium- ion battery, Mary Barra, senior vice president of global product development, told reporters in Detroit.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has been investigating the Volt to find the cause of three fires that occurred in the car’s battery pack in the weeks following separate collision tests. GM is working with NHTSA to find the cause and determine if a fix is needed.

“If we learn from this process and have to make changes in the field, we will,” Barra said. “If it’s something that we feel is important to the safety of the vehicle, we’ll find a way to do it.”

GM has offered loaner cars or will buy back Volts from concerned owners if they feel the cars are unsafe. GM has made the Volt one of the centerpieces of its U.S. marketing.

If a Volt owner wants the automaker to repurchase the car, “we’ll have a conversation,” Barra said. “If we get to a point where we think it’s the right thing to do, we will put the customer first and that’s what we will do.”

The automaker has said it developed a procedure to handle the car’s battery after an accident.

A Volt caught fire three weeks after a side-impact crash test May 12 while parked at a NHTSA testing center in Wisconsin, leading regulators to conduct more tests. Volt battery packs were damaged in three more tests in November, causing two fires, NHTSA said Nov. 25 in a statement on its website.

Volt’s Range

NHTSA isn’t investigating the Nissan Motor Co.’s Leaf or Tesla Motors Inc.’s Roadster, both of which have lithium-ion batteries.

The Volt can go about 40 miles on electricity before its gasoline engine kicks in and powers a generator, which recharges the battery. It has a range of 379 miles with electric and gasoline power combined. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last year estimated the Volt would average 60 miles per gallon in combined gasoline-electric driving, compared with 50 mpg for Toyota Motor Corp.’s Prius.

The Volt’s range is about four times what Nissan’s Leaf electric car travels on a single charge.

The Volt has been on the market for a year and went on sale in all 50 states in October. In January, GM plans to boost production to 60,000 a year from a rate of 10,000 annually. GM sold 6,142 Volts this year through November.

GM rose 1.5 percent to $21.28 at the close in New York. The shares have slid 42 percent this year.

--Editors: Bill Koenig, Andrea Snyder

To contact the reporter on this story: David Welch in Detroit at dwelch12@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jamie Butters at jbutters@bloomberg.net


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