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GM, NHTSA Delayed Volt Warnings To Prop Up Sales 344

Posted by timothy
from the regulatory-capture-and-cronyism dept.
Lauren Weinstein excerpts the most interesting part of a BBC story about the safety hazards associated with the Chevy Volt — specifically, the risk that its battery pack could catch fire after even a minor impact. While it might be unsurprising that GM was reluctant to shout out safety warnings that would dampen early sales of its much touted hybrid, according to the linked story the NHTSA was as well, and for the same reason: "Part of the reason for delaying the disclosure was the 'fragility of Volt sales' up until that point, according to Joan Claybrook, a former administrator at NHTSA."
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GM, NHTSA Delayed Volt Warnings To Prop Up Sales

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  • Re:Ohhhh shit (Score:5, Informative)

    by grqb (410789) on Thursday December 08, 2011 @03:19PM (#38307258) Homepage Journal

    This is getting blown way out of proportion.

    See this article for another view: http://www.economist.com/node/21541395 [economist.com]

    Specifically the last paragraph:
    "What is left unsaid in all this is the fact that conventional cars with a tank full of petrol are far greater fire hazards than electric cars will ever be. Some 185,000 vehicles catch fire in America each year, with no fewer than 285 people dying as a consequence. But, then, people have been living with the hazard of petrol for over a century. Irrationally, electric-vehicle fires are perceived as somehow more worrisome simply because they are new."

  • Re:Ohhhh shit (Score:3, Informative)

    by 0123456 (636235) on Thursday December 08, 2011 @03:22PM (#38307300)

    It's true. My gasoline-powered cars catch fire all the time.

    You are half-right, though. From what I've read the Volt's battery is supposed to be drained after a crash to ensure it can't catch fire... which must be great fun for people who are responding to the accident.

  • by 0100010001010011 (652467) on Thursday December 08, 2011 @03:24PM (#38307330)

    I hear Europe has a ton of diesel vehicles a ton with much better fuel economy. We can trust GM to not screw up diesels right? I mean how hard can it be. People have been making diesel engines for a hundred years.

  • Re:Excuse me? (Score:5, Informative)

    by 0123456 (636235) on Thursday December 08, 2011 @03:24PM (#38307334)

    Compare this to the infernal fireball that you get seconds after you puncture a gas tank.

    Dude, you should watch less action movies.

    Hint: in the real world, gasoline cars rarely explode when you fire a pistol at them.

  • Re:Ohhhh shit (Score:4, Informative)

    by DesScorp (410532) <.DesScorp. .at. .Gmail.com.> on Thursday December 08, 2011 @03:29PM (#38307406) Homepage Journal

    RIP once more, electric car. Dig you up in 20 years once the fallout of this conspiracy washes away. :-(

    Conspiracy? Please. Try reality.

    There's no conspiracy here against electric cars. Compared to gas powered vehicles, they suck. It really is as simple as that. The technology for electric cars just isn't there yet, no matter how hard you wish it. It wasn't a conspiracy that the EV1 failed, and it's not a conspiracy that newer electric cars still stink. There is no laughing fat man in an expensive suit, lighting cigars with $100 dollar bills that's preventing electric cars from taking off. Call the rest of us back when someone makes an electric car that can go as far as a gas car, as fast as a gas car, and has passenger room and a sticker price and operating costs comparable to gas cars. When that happens, people will buy them, and companies will be in one quick hurry to sell them.

  • Re:Ohhhh shit (Score:2, Informative)

    by 0123456 (636235) on Thursday December 08, 2011 @03:33PM (#38307466)

    Electric cars are NOT shit now

    Yes they are.

    and would be less shitty than ICE vehicles given a decade or two of development.

    Electric cars have had more than a century of development and they're still hopelessly inadequate compared to ICE cars. That's why our great-grandparents dumped electric cars as soon as the ICE came along.

  • Re:Ohhhh shit (Score:5, Informative)

    by Baloroth (2370816) on Thursday December 08, 2011 @04:14PM (#38308044)

    This is why nuclear is a bad option. It's ridiculously expensive because of the risks, massive redundancy needed and of course spent fuel storage for centuries. It will be necessary for another 50-100 years unfortunately but we'll get off it as renewable sources and battery tech gets better. They simply don't have the risks that nuclear will always have.

    You mean like hydroelectric? [wikipedia.org] (171,000 people dead from one accident, if you didn't click the link. I believe that is at least one order of magnitude more than have died, in totum, from nuclear accidents.) Other hydroelectric dams could kill at least that many again if they fail. Hydro failures are generally even more catastrophic than even the worst nuclear disasters have ever been. They also produce far more power than other renewable sources.

  • by khallow (566160) on Thursday December 08, 2011 @04:16PM (#38308072)
    There are two things to note about this story. First, it's reported in the BBC. That's a very good sign that it actually happened as the BBC story said it happened. Second, there's huge incentives for the Obama administration to play softball on this issue, namely, that General Motors is a favored company due to its bailout status and because electric vehicles are a pet project as well.

    However you spin this "crackpot theory", it remains that the Obama administration has a peculiar list of priorities which often show up in ugly ways.
  • Re:Ohhhh shit (Score:5, Informative)

    by TooMuchToDo (882796) on Thursday December 08, 2011 @04:29PM (#38308288)

    Emergency responders have been trained with regards to where the high voltage cables run from the battery pack to the motor (or motors, as is the case with the Toyota hybrid systems). The cables are bright orange, and are automatically disconnected from the high voltage battery pack by physical contactors upon a sufficient impact.

    http://barryfeinstein.com/InTheNews/2011/11/12/avoiding-electrocution-dedham-firefighters-learn-hybrid-ropes/ [barryfeinstein.com]

  • by jo_ham (604554) <joham999@noSPaM.gmail.com> on Thursday December 08, 2011 @04:31PM (#38308334)

    You can put out fires with diesel - it doesn't like to burn at atmospheric pressure.

    I drive a turbo diesel minivan that gets 53 mpg (44.1 US mpg) and find it very nice to drive - the performance stigma that has been attached to diesel has been mostly eradicated with modern engine designs and clever turbo and engine management computers. You get similar performance to petrol engines but much better mpg and you can tow yourself along in traffic by just lifting the clutch. The extra torque is lovely.

  • by bradley13 (1118935) on Thursday December 08, 2011 @04:54PM (#38308642) Homepage

    It gets even stranger: more people have died from solar energy [nextbigfuture.com] accidents (mostly, falling off roofs while installing panels), than have died from nuclear accidents. Of course, ordinary facts can never overcome irrational fears...

    For those who don't want to click on the link, the most dangerous (by far) is coal (including deaths due to pollution). Nuclear is the safest. The stats are based on deaths/TWh, and the authors gives lots of references.

  • Re:Ohhhh shit (Score:5, Informative)

    by Spoke (6112) on Thursday December 08, 2011 @04:55PM (#38308666)

    My primary car is an electric car, the Nissan LEAF. The price is comparable to other cars and the ride quality and low noise while driving is better than just about all vehicles out there except luxury vehicles. Fuel costs are half the price of the most efficient gas car on the market, the Toyota Prius at about $0.04 / mile compared to $0.09 / mile. Compared to your typical gas car fuel costs are 1/4 to 1/3rd the cost.

    Top speed is over 90 mph, more than fast enough for any public highway and seats up to 5 passengers comfortably. Instant torque when you press the accelerator can't be beat by any internal combustion engine.

    The only drawback is somewhat limited range and long recharge times, but after 6 months of ownership it's only prevented me from using the LEAF once - but with a DC quick charge station in some strategic locations it wouldn't have been an issue.

    Electric cars are here now - Nissan has sold over 20,000 LEAFs so far this year - the best selling EV in the world - and they still don't offer it in all 50 states here in the US.

    Will the current crop of EVs work for all people? No - and I certainly wouldn't recommend the LEAF for those that don't. There are plenty of hybrids out there that get great fuel economy and the plug-in hybrid Volt is a great way to minimize your gasoline consumption if you suffer from range anxiety.

  • Re:Ohhhh shit (Score:5, Informative)

    by geekoid (135745) <dadinportland AT yahoo DOT com> on Thursday December 08, 2011 @05:34PM (#38309088) Homepage Journal

    Except I don't think it's true.

    "Part of the reason for delaying the disclosure was the "fragility of Volt sales" up until that point, according to Joan Claybrook, a former administrator at NHTSA.

    "NHTSA could have put out a consumer alert," he said, according to industry website"

    A) Joan Claybrook hasn't been with NHTSA since 81
    B) That blurb really makes no sense where it is in the article. It looks like it was added later. Sloppy writing, to say the least
    C) The got her gender wrong. Again sloppy. Maybe a typo.
    D) The writer makes everything alarmist, and intentional uses alarmist phrasing.

    Conclusion: I can't really trust the author or this article.

  • Re:Ohhhh shit (Score:5, Informative)

    by bzipitidoo (647217) <bzipitidoo@yahoo.com> on Thursday December 08, 2011 @06:33PM (#38309712) Journal

    Be a bit more discriminating in your criticisms. Electric drive is awesome. It's way, way better than ICE. No gears, no hunting around for sweet spots in the RPM/torque characteristics, smoother power, far quieter, instantly starts, much more durable, simpler, cheaper, smaller, lighter, needs much less maintenance, and no smelly, polluting, unhealthy exhaust from a tailpipe. Railroads have been using diesel electric engines for decades, for many of those reasons. Having personally used an electric mower (plugin, no battery), I don't want to go back to the combustion engine mower. The advantages are so worth the big disadvantage of being tied to an extension cord. I've worked out ways to cope with that; it's not that bad.

    The batteries are the problem with it all. The gas tank is by far the simpler, cheaper, faster, and more durable energy storage method. If we ever get batteries or fuel cells sorted out, the combustion engine will very quickly become a quaint relic of the past.

    Or perhaps we could figure a way to electrify our roads. Works for subways.

It's not so hard to lift yourself by your bootstraps once you're off the ground. -- Daniel B. Luten

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