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Chevy Volt battery fires prompt probe

Chevy Volt batteries catch fire after government crash tests, but no reports of fires from any Chevy Volt in a highway crash.

By Joan LowyAssociated Press / November 29, 2011

In this 2010 file photo, a Chevy Volt appears on display at the Washington Auto Show in Washington. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said Friday it has opened a formal safety defect investigation of the lithium-ion batteries in General Motors Co.'s Chevrolet Volt to assess the risk of fire in the electric car after a serious crash.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP/File

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WASHINGTON

New fires involving the lithium-ion batteries in General Motors Co.'s Chevrolet Volt have prompted an investigation to assess the risk of fire in the electric car after a serious crash, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said Friday.

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One Chevy Volt battery pack that was being closely monitored following a government crash test caught fire Thursday, the safety administration said in a statement. Another recently crash-tested battery emitted smoke and sparks, the statement said.

GM, which was informed of the investigation on Friday, said in a statement that the Volt "is safe and does not present undue risk as part of normal operation or immediately after a severe crash."

The latest fires are in addition to a battery fire in a crash-tested Volt six months ago.

NHTSA learned of a possible fire risk involving damaged Volt batteries when a fire erupted in a Volt that was being stored in a parking lot a test facility in Burlington, Wisconsin. The fire was severe enough to cause several other vehicles parked nearby to catch fire as well.

The car had been subjected to a side-impact crash test more than three weeks earlier, on May 12, during which the battery was punctured and its coolant line ruptured.

Last week's tests of three battery packs were designed to replicate the May test. In that test, the Volt was subjected to a simulated side-impact collision into a narrow object like a tree or pole followed by a rollover, the agency said.

The first battery tested last week didn't catch fire. But a battery test on Nov. 17 initially experienced a temporary temperature increase, and on Thursday caught fire. Another battery tested on Nov. 18 began to smoke and emit sparks shortly after the rotation.

The tests were conducted by NHTSA and the Energy and Defense departments at a defense facility near Hampton Roads, Virginia.

So far, no fires have been reported in Volts involved in roadway crashes, NHTSA said. More than 5,000 of the vehicles have been sold.

It's too soon to tell whether the investigation will lead to a recall of any vehicles or parts, but the government will ensure consumers are informed promptly if that occurs, the agency said.