Amidst a growing controversy over some Chevy Volt crash tests that resulted in batteries catching fire, GM is offering the approximately 6,000 Volt owners a different GM vehicle on a free loan while the US government determines if the car is truly a danger to owners. In a press release annoucing the loaner program, GM president Mark Russ said, "our customers' peace of mind is too important to us for there to be any concern or any worry. This technology should inspire confidence and pride, not raise any concern or doubt." GM also notes that a loaner program at this point in a preliminary investigation is "well beyond the norm" and that it "underlines our commitment to the vehicle and its owners." While GM continues to defend the Volt, calling it a "five-star safety car," it isn't quite the same tone it had a few days ago when it told The Wall Street Journal that the Volt is safe.
GM also noted that it has put together a senior engineering team that will attempt to eliminate the concern of post-crash battery fires and develop industry standards for electrical vehicle safety; this study is in addition to the one already underway by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). It seems GM is taking the issue seriously, and is taking steps to avoid damaging the reputation of electric cars before they even really get on the road. Mary Barra, senior VP of Global Product Development at GM, said, "This isn't just a Volt issue. We're already leading a joint electric vehicle activity with Society of Automotive Engineers and other automotive companies to address new issues, such as this protocol of depowering batteries after a severe crash."
It's worth reiterating that the Volt's battery fires have only taken place in crash tests and occurred over a week after the crash without the battery being disconnected. Since electric car safety protocol says anyone in a crash should have the battery disconnected immediately, these test fires shouldn't occur in the average accident. Still, it's good to see GM proactively reaching out to its owners over a safety concern.