Congress Investigating NHTSA Chevy Volt Report Delay

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Detroit News reports that Congress will hold a hearing to determine why NHTSA waited six months to report a spontaneously combusting Chevy Volt which went up in flames three weeks after a crash-test. The news comes three weeks after I first questioned the delay. While there was no justification for NHTSA to keep the incident secret from the public, the skepticism towards a government agency of the Executive Branch being in charge of investigating the safety of President Obama's favorite car is fully justified.

The realization that NHTSA's delay in reporting its Volt fire may have been motivated by allegiances to Government Motors came after a former NHTSA administrator, Joan Claybrook, stated, "Not to tell them anything for six months makes no sense to me. NHTSA could have put out a consumer alert and I think they should have done so." She went on to say, "I believe they delayed it because of the fragility of sales." Not surprisingly, despite the fact that the statement was very logical, website apologists for the Volt criticized the comments from Ms. Claybrook.

The initial report on the NHTSA Volt fire made claims that the agency could not replicate the original "thermal expansion" incident. I'll put this excuse as the early favorite to be echoed by apologists for the Volt and reported by, what has been up until now, a very non-skeptical group of journalists. The problem with this defense is that recent NHTSA tests on three Chevy Volts replicated the problem two out of three times. General Motors and NHTSA would have us believe that the potential problem went away for six months and couldn't be replicated, only now to reappear in 66% of Volt crash-tests! Not very likely, but the public, as well as the media, has been deceived about the Volt before and may fall for it if further congressional investigations do not push for transparency from NHTSA.

Government Motors, which has gambled much credibility and taxpayer dollars on the Chevy Volt, has blamed low sales for the vehicle on supply constraints for the past year. Those who criticized the Volt or questioned the excuse were deemed to be right wing Luddites on a witch hunt to discredit a green wonder-car that was going to be a "moon shot" and "game-changer" for GM. Well, the game hasn't seemed to change much as the Volt underachieves and GM continues to hype the vehicle as it continues the costly hoax that demand far exceeds supply for the car. Some journalists may be tiring of being played for suckers as reports like one titled, "Slow Sales Dogged Volt Before Fires" from Sharon Terlap at the WSJ are exposing the truth about low sales for the Volt. Ms. Terlap discovers, as I had previously done, that dealerships are not seeing demand for the Volt even as supply increased to a high of over 4,000 vehicles in November.

GM has not been honest to this point regarding the Volt. Taxpayers who spend billions of dollars subsidizing the vehicle deserve the truth. Purchasers of the vehicle should not have safety concerns withheld for political reasons. NHTSA should be required to present documentation for all tests done that tried to replicate the original Volt crash-test fire. I'm guessing that they are not being honest about the results of efforts to replicate the fire, or they weren't trying too hard to replicate. Statements out of Transportation Secretary LaHood that the Volt is safe, before investigations are complete, further confirm that NHTSA is not conducting an unbiased investigation.

The attention given to the Chevy Volt now is exposing shortcomings at a government agency that is responsible for the safety of US motorists. More transparency is needed from NHTSA and congressional oversight is warranted. NHTSA meetings with manufacturers like GM or Toyota when there are safety concerns should be well-documented and available for review. There is no excuse for GM and NHTSA to have withheld safety concerns on the Chevy Volt for six months. When the excuses and justification for the delay of the NHTSA Volt fire come, as they surely will, they should come with full transparency and documentation. A little skepticism of NHTSA's actions now may save lives in the future.

Mark Modica is an NLPC Associate Fellow.