Auto/Economy
3:34 pm
Thu January 26, 2012

Chevy Volt hearing an "opportunity" says Mark Reuss

General Motors North American President Mark Reuss weighed in on his boss's testimony Wednesday before a Congressional subcommittee. 

The hearing was entitled, "Volt vehicle fire: What did NHTSA know, and when did they know it?"

Reuss says, "It was a huge opportunity for us, yesterday, and the whole company is proud of Dan [Akerson - GM's CEO].  But more importantly it gives the whole country a look into what this company can be."

Reuss says GM is a transparent company dedicated to making safe, highly fuel-efficient products and the hearing was a chance to emphasize that.

Akerson strongly defended the safety of the Chevy Volt on Wednesday.    He noted that GM engineered many safety features in the Volt, earning the car five stars for safety, but "unfortunately....we did not engineer the Volt to be a political punching bag."

Some members of the committee accuse NHTSA of covering up an investigation into the safety of the Volt after a fire occurred in one of the cars -- a coverup they allege happened because the U.S. Treasury is still a part-owner of GM.

NHTSA Administrator David Strickland testified that was not the case. 

Akerson said the government plays no role in the operations of GM, and he did not speak with anyone in the Obama administration about the Volt fire or the investigation.  He called NHTSA's response to the Volt fire "proportional."

NHTSA did open a formal investigation in November.  In June, a fire broke out on a Volt that had gone through a crash test weeks earlier.

The agency closed the investigation last week, saying there is no more fire risk in electric cars like the Volt than conventional cars.

General Motors changed its safety protocols in response to the investigation.

The company now recommends that the gas tank in the Volt be drained after an accident, and that both the 12-Volt and the larger lithium-ion battery be disconnected, AND that the larger battery have its energy drained. 

That last step was not a part of the original safety training for first responders that GM coordinated in advance of the Volt's sale.

GM will now reeducate first responders with the new protocol.

Reuss commented from the Washington Auto Show, where GM announced a new "ecologic label" that will highlight the green features of Chevrolet vehicles, from the manufacturing plant to the vehicle itself to how much of the car can be recycled at the end of its useful life.