Back in May, the battery of a Chevy Volt caught fire several weeks after a routine crash test conducted by General Motors. This caught the attention of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and now it's opening a formal investigation to see if Chevy Volt owners are at risk and whether or not a recall will be necessary. The NHTSA decided to open this investigation after it was able to ignite the Chevy Volt's battery twice in three separate tests, which were designed to recreate the circumstances of GM's original test in May.
For GM's part, it said in a statement to The Washington Post that the Volt "is safe and does not present undue risk as part of normal operation or immediately after a severe crash." While the NHTSA's investigation is certainly a reasonable response to any potential danger, no vehicles on the road have had this issue, and the NHTSA itself tells Volt drivers that there's no cause for concern unless their car has been in a serious accident. Hopefully the NHTSA either deems the Volt safe or is able to identify any issue and alert consumers before a car in a real accident catches fire.
Update: The Wall Street Journal is now claiming that the NHTSA is no longer certain that battery-powered cars are as safe as gasoline-powered vehicles, which is a reversal of its previous stance. It also says that owners of electric vehicles besides the Volt have no need for worry at this time, while GM reiterates that even Volt owners shouldn't be concerned.
GM spokesman Greg Martin notes that in all test cases fires occurred at least a week following the crash, and that batteries were not disconnected after the simulated accident. Standard safety procedures dictate that the battery be disconnected and the car taken in to a shop following a crash, which would minimize the risk of a fire. Martin believes that "we need to give consumers credit that most are able to discern what poses a risk."