Media Suppressing NHTSA’s Suppression of Chevy Volt Fire?

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You may have heard of the announcement that there will be a congressional investigation into why NHTSA waited six months to notify the public of the crash-tested Chevy Volt which burst into flames three weeks after the crash-test. If you have, it was probably not through mainstream media networks, which seem to be keeping fairly quiet on the story. I have not been able to ascertain a logical reason for General Motors and the Obama Administration's transportation safety agency to withhold reporting the incident.

At the least, they should have immediately publicized the safety protocol that was developed as a result of the risks that come from a new technology that has been thrust upon motorists at the taxpayers' expense. Do we have a "Fiery and Fallacious" scandal on our hands, or was there justification for NHTSA and GM withholding the information?

We may have to wait for the congressional investigation to be complete before discovering what the excuse is for NHTSA not immediately reporting its Volt incident. I'm not buying the initial claims that the incident couldn't be replicated. Just recently, two of three Volts crash-tested also ignited days or weeks after the tests. My guess is, in line with many of GM's half-truths, similar crash-tests were not performed; rather, they attempted to replicate problems with some other types of tests on the batteries. If NHTSA and GM tried replicating the same types of crash-tests during the six months it took to report the problem, they should be forced to show documentation. NLPC has requested, under the Freedom of Information Act, all documents regarding communications between the government agency and government-owned GM.

Transparency at NHTSA is something that has been questioned before, particularly regarding meetings between the agency and automakers. This time around there appears to be a clear conflict as the agency is investigating a vehicle that has been supported by President Obama who has a vested interest in the success of the vehicle, as well as in GM. In fact, initial statements out of NHTSA declared the Volt safe (as well as a great benefit to the environment and national security) before the investigation even started! But the mainstream media has been fairly quiet about the potential cover-up. So, why is a politically charged story that is worthy of a congressional investigation not getting more media attention?

In defense of the Volt, there has been no real world accidents reported where vehicles spontaneously combusted days or weeks after the accident. Keep in mind, though, that there are not a whole lot of them on the road yet. There have been a couple of house fires which involved Volts where no evidence of what caused the fires surfaced. In the first Connecticut fire, the Volt did reignite days after the fire, but was not blamed for the fire after GM took over the fire investigation. But the NHTSA story is not about the actual safety of the Volt, it is about how a government agency should protect the public's safety and not be influenced by politics when conflicts arise. And that is a story worth reporting.

There is a clear difference between how mainstream media outlets report on a story like Solyndra (which involved corporate cronyism, green energy initiative folly, taxpayer waste, and political favoritism), and how they report on GM / Chevy Volt issues (which exhibit all the same.) The clear difference between the two companies is ad spending; where GM spends billions of dollars a year on its marketing budget, I could not remember seeing multi-million dollar TV sponsorships by Solyndra. And I have never seen anything like the hype GM received by TV networks on its now busted IPO and the Chevy Volt roll-out.

Not all congressional investigations are worthy of valuable network airtime. I do believe, however, that media bias and a desire not to bite the hand that feeds them plays a role in how stories on GM get covered. Consider the references by the major TV news networks that the GM bailout was successful, despite the billions of dollars lost by taxpayers. I have also heard the Chevy Volt referred to as "very popular." How can a car that loses money, misses sales goals and has been rejected by the average consumer be considered very popular?

If the Chevy Volt becomes as successful as the media and Government Motors projected it to be with individual consumers (something that has not occurred yet), then I will have been proven wrong about my criticisms. Any success, however, should not be subsidized by taxpayers doling out a $7,500 tax credit to wealthy purchasers for each vehicle sold. There should have also been studies to determine the environmental and safety concerns with lithium-ion battery powered vehicles as well as an evaluation of what the actual benefits to oil consumption will be if costly EV goals are met. Most of all, those that should be acting on behalf of the American people should be held to task if they fail to do their jobs, particularly if conflicts of interests exist. That goes for congress, President Obama, government safety agencies and mainstream media.

Mark Modica is an NLPC Associate Fellow.