NPR Story
1:00 pm
Thu January 5, 2012

GM Tries To Quiet Concerns About Chevy Volt

Originally published on Thu January 5, 2012 4:27 pm

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel. General Motors is recalling the Chevy Volt - sort of. The company is asking Volt owners to bring in their hybrid electric cars for what it calls enhancements. The problem involves crash tests and fire.

NPR's Sonari Glinton explains.

SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: Several months ago, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration was conducting crash tests with the Chevy Volt. Now, first, the agency crashed the car and then...

BILL VISNIC: And then put it through subsequent tests that simulated the vehicle rolling over, and held it in that position for a certain period of time.

GLINTON: I'm going to let Bill Visnic help with the story. He's with edmunds.com. So they crashed the car, simulated a rollover, and then some of the coolant leaked out.

VISNIC: There had been evaporation, and other things that happened to this coolant, that made it so that it effectively shorted out the battery; started to cause it to smolder. And because these batteries do contain a large amount of electricity, this smoldering went on for quite some time. And then it eventually got hot enough to create a fire.

GLINTON: There was a span of weeks between crash and fire. The Transportation Department has launched an investigation into the fires. Today, GM announced that it had come up with a fix for the problem, and it's inviting consumers to bring their cars to dealers in the next couple of months. GM and the government both stress there's no immediate danger to Volt drivers.

Now, there's about 8,000 cars in consumer hands, and 4,400 on dealer lots. As recalls go, this is a pretty small one. However...

JACK NERAD: Any question about Chevy Volt is bad news for GM.

GLINTON: Jack Nerad is with Kelley Blue Book. He says the Chevy Volt is what they call in the car business a halo car. It's an emblem of everything General Motors is and wants to be.

NERAD: Even if this a rather minor problem, or a problem that is very, very unlikely to happen to a consumer, it's still not good news for them.

GLINTON: Nerad says the Chevy Volt is where GM has staked its reputation and its ad dollars.

(SOUNDBITE OF GM AD)

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Hey, I thought these were electric.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: It is, yeah. It's a Chevy Volt.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: So what are you doing in a gas station?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Well, it still takes gas, to go farther.

GLINTON: Bill Visnic, with edmunds.com, says that ad sums up the real problem with the Volt, which has failed to meet its modest sales goal of 10,000 cars.

VISNIC: I do think that there's this - sort of an intrinsic distrust here, I guess, if you will, of the technology because a lot of people don't understand it.

GLINTON: GM is fixing the cars under a customer service campaign. That's kind of like a recall, but it comes without the bad publicity or the federal scrutiny of a general safety recall.

Michael Robinet is an analyst with IHS Automotive. He says GM is making a smart move by getting ahead of the game.

MICHAEL ROBINET: They take it very seriously, that they want to make sure that they're putting the very best vehicle out.

GLINTON: But it has a PR impact, doesn't it?

ROBINET: Yeah, but so do other recalls. I mean, there's recalls that, you know, involve tens of hundreds of more vehicles than this does, and - but interestingly, you don't get phone calls about those.

GLINTON: Robinet says if the auto industry is going to adopt new technologies, consumers are going to have to get used to growing pains, and making more trips to their local dealer. Sonari Glinton, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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