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GM Lithium-Battery Lab Explosion Injures 2

April 11, 2012

General Motors Co. world headquarters in Detroit. Photographer: Jeff Kowalsky/Bloomberg

General Motors Co. world headquarters in Detroit. Photographer: Jeff Kowalsky/Bloomberg

General Motors Co. (GM:US), maker of the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid sedan, said a test battery exploded at a research facility near its Detroit headquarters.

A lithium-ion battery exploded today at GM’s technical center in Warren, Michigan, with two people being taken to a hospital, David Frederick, the city’s fire chief, said in a telephone interview. An “incident” occurred about 8:45 a.m. in a laboratory conducing “extreme testing on a prototype battery” unrelated to the Volt, GM said in e-mailed statements.

The battery explosion comes as GM seeks to reassure consumers about the safety of the Volt, which uses lithium-ion batteries. Volt sales were hurt after a U.S. investigation into battery fires was announced in November. The U.S. closed the probe in January, saying the Volt and other electric vehicles pose no more fire risk than other cars.

“The headlines are not positive for lithium-ion and General Motors,” Dennis Virag, president of Automotive Consulting Group in Ann Arbor, Michigan, said in a telephone interview. “It does bring up the subject of the dangers associated with batteries.”

One of the injured people has life-threatening injuries, the Detroit Free Press reported on its website, citing Wilburt McAdams, Warren fire commissioner.

“When the crews were on the scene, they reported smoke but not a lot of fire,” Frederick said. Five employees were evaluated by medical personnel and one received further treatment, GM said.

Volt Sales Target

The Warren center is where GM, the world’s largest automaker, developed the Volt and researches electric-vehicle batteries.

The automaker aims to boost sales of the $39,000 Volt to more than 3,000 a month, Chief Executive Officer Dan Akerson said in an interview last week with Bloomberg Radio scheduled for broadcast next month. The best month of U.S. sales of the Volt so far was 2,289 in March.

“It seems like we’ve sustained ourselves through this difficult period,” Akerson said. “We hope to get up to 3,000- plus in the coming months and are certainly positioning it.”

GM said last week that Volt production will resume April 16, a week earlier than planned following March’s sales improvement. The automaker had said it would halt production in early March after selling 1,023 Volts in February and 603 in January, below the rate needed to meet Akerson’s goal of 45,000 deliveries in the U.S. this year.

‘Potential Problems’

Today’s explosion caused a fire that was extinguished, Kevin Kelly, a GM spokesman, said in a telephone interview. The building was evacuated and all employees have been accounted for, GM said in its statement.

“When you have high-energy density, whether it’s in gasoline or diesel fuel or batteries or whatever, you’re going to have potential problems,” David Cole, chairman emeritus for the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Michigan, said in an interview at a U.S. Army fuel-economy event elsewhere in Warren. “When you’re developing new technologies and trying to improve batteries, this is sort of par for the course.”

GM rose 1.3 percent to $24.03 at the close in New York.

To contact the reporter on this story: Tim Higgins in Southfield, Michigan at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jamie Butters at

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