Death by Car

capitalism's drive to carmageddon: news & comments

$102,000 for Electrical Fires?

electric fire Apparently, the Chevy Volt’s tendency to burst into flames isn’t just a GM problem. The same issue — failure of battery cooling systems — exists in the IQ-test-for-rich-people known as the Fisker Karma:

Dec. 23 (Bloomberg) — A123 Systems Inc., the maker of batteries for electric vehicles, said it found a “potential safety issue” in batteries it supplies to Fisker Automotive Inc.

A123, which also sells batteries to automakers such as General Motors Co. and Daimler AG, said hose clamps that are part of the internal cooling system of its batteries supplied to Fisker were “misaligned” and may cause coolant to leak. Such a leak could lead to an electrical short circuit, David Vieau, chief executive officer, wrote in a memo on Waltham, Massachusetts-based A123’s investor-relations website.

One wonders how the car’s means of preventing electrical fires is going to perform after collisions, given that misalignment in manufacturing is a problem. Maybe Fisker will have its own battery shut-down squads roving the nation and swooping in after every crash. Or maybe not.

That’s the problem with increased complexity: It tends to create more ways for things to fail.

Of course, so long as we let capitalists dictate how we conduct our lives, they are going to continue insisting that we butter our toast with these profit-maximizing chainsaws.

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Where There’s Smoke…

chevy-volt-garage-fire Remember our recent report about a Chevy Volt catching fire three weeks after a crash test? Turns out it wasn’t a fluke. According to Automotive News:

In lab tests completed last week by U.S. safety regulators, a second Volt [battery] pack began to smoke and throw off sparks while a third battery pack caught fire a week after a simulated crash.

GM may redesign the battery for its Chevrolet Volt to address issues raised after federal officials opened a safety probe into the plug-in electric [sic] car, CEO Dan Akerson said today.

GM said on Monday it would also offer loaner vehicles to about 5,500 Volt owners as it works with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on ways to reduce the risk of battery fires breaking out days after crashes involving the car.

How delightful! After shelling out $40,000+ for the car and another few thousand for the home charging station, you get to enjoy a loaner GM.

Such is reality in the Rube Goldberg world of late Oil Age automobiles.

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Smoking Halo

dumpster_fire Not that it much matters, given the sub-anemic sales, but it seems that GM’s vaporware/haloware/loss leader, the Chevy Volt, might be prone to conflagration after collisions. Bloomberg reports:

U.S. auto-safety regulators are scrutinizing the safety of lithium-ion batteries that power electric vehicles after a General Motors Co. (GM) Chevrolet Volt battery caught fire, people familiar with the probe said.

The regulators have approached all automakers, including GM, Nissan Motor Co. and Ford Motor Co., that sell or have plans to sell vehicles with lithium-ion batteries with questions about the batteries’ fire risk, four people familiar with the inquiry said.

The Volt caught fire while parked at a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration testing center in Wisconsin, three weeks after a side-impact crash test, said an agency official. The fire was severe enough to burn vehicles parked near the Volt, the agency official said. Investigators determined the battery was the source of the fire, the official said.

As usual, NHTSA is dutifully representing the interests of the industry by keeping the investigation secret:

The official, as well as the three other people familiar with the inquiry, said they couldn’t be named because the investigation isn’t public.

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coal loader Turns out the EPA (hardly a tough skeptic on this crucial capitalist push) says the Nissan Leaf, when brand-new, will have a driving range of 73, not 100, miles.

In other words, in its marketing efforts, Nissan exaggerates this key number by 37 percent.  (Par for the course in our market-totalitarian “up to” culture.)

Of course, even Nissan admits that the Leaf battery, which stores the burnt coal or natural gas or fissioned uranium on which the Leaf ultimately runs, will, like all batteries, decay over time.  Nissan says ordinary decay will take the battery down to 80 percent capacity after five years.

If Nissan is fudging that figure by roughly the same percentage of its range lies, in 5 years, the preening fools who spend the $35,000+ it takes to get a Leaf and a home charger might have a coal-car than can go maybe 50 miles total.  Five years after that?  Who knows?

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