Testimony Emerges from Chevy Volt Congressional Hearing

The “unnatural relationship” between the Obama administration and US carmakers in the wake of the 2009 auto bailouts may have led to a delay in disclosing a potential safety defect in Chevrolet Volts, Republican lawmakers claim in a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee report. Some Republicans questioned whether the US government’s 32-percent ownership stake in General Motors means that it cannot be “an effective regulator.”

Specifically, US Representative, Darrel Issa (R-CA), stated “This unnatural relationship has blurred the lines between the public and private sector as President Obama touts the survival of General Motors as one of the top accomplishments of his administration. On a policy level, this relationship raises serious questions about whether or not the administration is too heavily invested in the success of GM to be an effective regulator.”

Today’s hearing—titled “Volt Vehicle Fire: What did NHTSA know and when did they know it?”—stems from the Volt fire incidents and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) handling of the issue. Republicans assert that both General Motors and the NHTSA delayed disclosing info related to the first Volt fire until after Bloomberg News broke the story.

The NHTSA opened a formal investigation in late November and closed it in mid-January, concluding that “no discernible defect trend exists” and that “modifications recently developed by General Motors reduce the potential for battery intrusion resulting from side impacts.”

Meanwhile, General Motors denies that the US government’s ownership stake affects its operations. Greg Martin, a spokesman for GM, told Automotive News, “The administration’s been true to their word from the start and has not interfered in our business. As our actions with the Volt have demonstrated, we’ve always put our customers’ safety and peace of mind first, above all else.”

In testimony prepared for today’s hearing, General Motors CEO, Dan Akerson, stated “The Volt’s entry into the market came soon after GM’s emergence from its government rescue and restructuring—and during this political season. As such, the Volt seems, perhaps unfairly, to have become a surrogate for some to offer broader commentary on General Motors’ business prospects and Administration policy.”

Finally, NHTSA Administrator, David Strickland, will testify that the Agency took the “uncommon step” of opening a formal defect investigation despite the fact that no Chevy Volt fires were reported outside crash tests. Strickland says that the NHTSA’s decision to investigate the Volt was to “ensure the safety of the driving public with the emerging electric vehicle technology.”


  • Lad

    Boy, what a bunch of B*** S***. Why would Obama care to slow down safety investigations? These Republicans are not the party of the people but the party of Nonsense and poor logic.

  • Lad

    Boy, what a bunch of B*** S***. Why would Obama care to slow down safety investigations? These Republicans are not the party of the people but the party of Nonsense and poor logic.

  • Jim Jones

    They want to ” Who killed the electric car part II ” to be made.

  • JJJSpawn

    They twist the facts into such a way that it is hardly discernible. I try to listen to the “fair and balance” from Fox News. But when this topic came up it was hardly fair and I definitely did not see any balancing act going on.

  • AP

    As a GM employee, I can say we are not thrilled by partial government ownership, because of these exact political situations.

    As any good news story has said, the fires that did occur happened after a severe side collision, when after the test,

    1) the battery was not discharged per GM’s and OnStar’s instructions (OnStar calls to prompt you to do this), to remove the stored energy
    2) the vehicle was rolled over on its side and left that way, and
    3) the vehicle sat for 1-3 weeks.

    Only then was there a fire. That is not a passenger safety issue. There are no “exploding Volts” as Fox News has said.

    If any other manufacturer had produced the same test results, there would have been no concern or outcry. While I am a conservative politically, I think that overreaction to events like this undermines our creditibility. Not that liberals have much credibility either-look at the equally overblown hew and cry over supposed Keystone pipeline risk, and the reaction to the Hummer.

    The Volt and the Hummer, both good GM products with their own target market, have been senselessly savaged. Each became a poster child, one for the rigth, and one for the left. Lucky us.

    Please remember that the criticism of the Hummer was just as politically motivated, and just as damaging to the US manufacturing base, which is already hurting.

    All that aside, I am proud of the way Akerson stood up to this senseless harassment over a non-issue.

  • James Davis

    If GM would’ve used that $450 billion dollars the tax payers gave them and came out with an all electric vehicle and used a more sound battery technology, this would never had happened. The non-GM hybrid and electric car companies, like Nissan, do not have these problems. I think GM needs to replace their CEO and hire some educated electrical and design engineers. It also wouldn’t hurt sales if they would stop and get off that greed train they are riding. That Volt is not worth 45 thousand dollars; it is barely worth 20 thousand.

  • AP

    James, I’m not sure where you are getting your $450 billion figure. That sounds more like the money the banks got. I believe GM got about a tenth of that.

    You say “Nissan doesn’t have these problems.” What problems? The Volt is safe. The issue in the government tests was only in unrealistic conditions.

    I’m also not sure how coming out with an electric-only vehicle would have been better. It was the battery that leaked and eventually started a fire. When a gasoline-powered vehicle wrecks, the first thing you so is drain the fuel to prevent fire. With an electric car, you should likewise discharge the battery. The Fed’s didn’t, and a fire (eventually) started. Our battery technology is not significantly different than Nissan’s.

    As for GM’s engineers, say what you will, but we are known in the auto industry as being top notch. And our upper management, despite this not being a safety issue, reacted quickly to counter any concern people might have. We even offered to buy Volts back, which most customers realized was unnecessary.

    As for the Volt not being worth $40,000, it depends on how you measure worth: value to the customer or its price vs. its cost to build. Everyone in the auto industry knows that it takes far more than $40,000 to build a Volt, so GM loses money on each one (I’d wager Nissan loses money on every Leaf, too).

  • Sri

    So Suddenly now the republicans wants the government to be “Effective Regulators”. Whatever happened to the “government stepping out of the way and let the market decide which product is good”?

  • Van

    If a Republican administration owned 35% of a Air Line, what would be said about the “cozy” relation of the regulators and the Air Line?

    As a pro-Volt advocate, I can see nothing wrong of significance in the regulation of vehicle safety. However, I think this is an unhealthy relationship, and the government should divest itself of General Motors.

    But I share with others the dislike of using the Volt for a political pawn – it has enough problems (costs way too much) without hindering its meager sales prospects.

  • MrEnergyCzar

    What a waste of time. At least the Volt can add another award to it’s long list. “Most Political Car” of the year….

    MrEnergyCzar

  • Engineer

    The reasons why smart people do not buy Electric or Hybrid cars are: Batteries are expensive, short lived, efficiency isn’t 100 % and the electricity is not free. Going electric you won’t decrease Air Pollution because 50 % of the electricity is produced by burning COAL. By the way a Jetta Diesel, TDI for $23000 makes 40MPG. With a full tank of Chevy Volt, driving non-stop, you make 37MPG, plus $3 or more, the price of electricity you charged 16.0-kW-hr lithium-ion, the hefty $10000 of 750-pound battery pack.

  • Engineer

    The reasons why smart people do not buy Electric or Hybrid cars are: Batteries are expensive, short lived, efficiency isn’t 100 % and the electricity is not free. Going electric you won’t decrease Air Pollution because 50 % of the electricity is produced by burning COAL. By the way a Jetta Diesel, TDI for $23000 makes 40MPG. With a full tank of Chevy Volt, driving non-stop, you make 37MPG, plus $3 or more, the price of electricity you charged 16.0-kW-hr lithium-ion, the hefty 750-pound battery pack.

  • Engineer

    The reasons why smart people do not buy Electric or Hybrid cars are: Batteries are expensive, short lived, efficiency isn’t 100 % and the electricity is not free. Going electric you won’t decrease Air Pollution because 50 % of the electricity is produced by burning COAL. By the way a Jetta Diesel, TDI for $23000 makes 40MPG. With a full tank of Chevy Volt, driving non-stop, you make 37MPG, plus $3 or more, the price of electricity you charged 16.0-kW-hr lithium-ion, the hefty $10000 of 750-pound battery pack.

  • tapra1

    The administration’s been true to their word from the start and has not interfered in our business. As our actions with the Volt have demonstrated,jjwyy

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