GM CEO defends company over Chevy Volt lithium ion batteries

In written testimony for a congressional hearing Wednesday, Daniel F. Akerson said that testing by government regulators resulted in fires "after putting the battery through lab conditions that no driver would experience in the real world."

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration began studying the Volt last June after a fire broke out in one of the cars three weeks after it was crashed as part of safety testing. Two other fires occurred later related to separate safety tests, and NHTSA opened an official investigation into the vehicle on Nov. 25. The government ended its investigation last week, concluding that the Volt and other electric cars don’t pose a greater fire risk than gasoline-powered cars. The agency and General Motors Co. know of no fires in real-world crashes.

The chairman and CEO of General Motors Co. is defending the company over battery fires in Chevrolet Volt electric cars last year. But some critics have criticized the government’s response, accusing NHTSA of a conflict of interest because the government still owns 26.5 percent of the company’s shares. Wednesday’s subcommittee hearing of the GOP-led House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is titled, "Volt Vehicle Fire: What did NHTSA Know and When Did They Know It?"

For GM’s part, Akerson said, "There would be no stalling or working the bureaucratic process. We’d place our customers’ sense of safety and peace of mind first, and we would act quickly."

The company advised Volt owners to return their cars to dealers for repairs that will lower the risk of battery fires. GM hopes that by adding steel to the plates protecting the batteries, it will ease worries about the car’s safety. The vehicles are covered by a "customer satisfaction program" run by GM, which is similar to a safety recall but allows the carmaker to avoid the bad publicity and federal monitoring that come with a recall.