Chevy Volt Pep Rally Masquerades as Electric Vehicle Safety Symposium

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Chevy Volt chargerThe Department of Transportation and NHTSA have announced that a "technical symposium" will be held on May 18th "to discuss safety considerations for electric vehicles powered by lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries." In addition to NHTSA's presentations, the Department of Energy, automotive manufacturers and battery makers will participate. Given the bias of the participants, the symposium sounds like it is going to be less informational and more infomercial.

The press release for the gathering states, "Electric vehicles show great promise as an innovative and fuel-efficient option for American drivers. Significant research and other activities related to the safety of these vehicles are ongoing by NHTSA, the Department of Energy (DOE), vehicle and battery manufacturers, standards organizations, and others." I think that gives a hint as to where this is going. Add to this the fact that the Obama Administration agencies involved have all celebrated the rollout of the Chevy Volt and have been proponents of a costly green energy policy. And does anyone think that the manufacturers of lithium-ion batteries and EVs will give anything but a positive view of the safety of the products they are selling?

NHTSA's bias is obvious as evidenced by its statements when it was discovered that Chevy Volts that were crash-tested burst into flames weeks after the tests. They stated, "NHTSA continues to believe that electric vehicles have incredible potential to save consumers money at the pump, help protect the environment, create jobs and strengthen national security by reducing our dependence on oil." They also prematurely concluded, "Based on the available data, NHTSA does not believe the Volt or other electric vehicles are at a greater risk of fire than gasoline-powered vehicles."

The Volt fires, a recent explosion of a lithium-ion battery that injured workers at a General Motors test lab and the Fisker Karma fire that burned down a home all give cause for concern regarding the safety of volatile lithium-ion battery powered vehicles. Politics should not trump public safety as President Obama campaigns on his green energy agenda and the perceived success of the Chevy Volt.

We will soon find out if taxpayers have again paid to promote vehicles like the Volt when the public is informed of the conclusions drawn by the "safety symposium." I expect statements like, "this is a new technology that we have to adapt to" along with, "proper protocol must be followed when responding to accidents" and "EVs are perfectly safe as no real world incidents have occurred." Of course, the wonderful potential of subsidized EVs to safe the US from foreign oil dependence deserves mention. As always, what will be lacking is an analysis of how much taxpayers are paying to promote the electrification of America's auto fleet. What are the specifics on how much we can expect to reduce oil consumption by getting a few million EVs on US roads over the next five to ten years? We don't need a taxpayer-funded symposium to figure out that billions of dollars are being spent for a fractional reduction in US oil consumption. And we can certainly do without any government sponsored pep rally for the Chevy Volt and other EVs disguised as a safety symposium.

Mark Modica is an NLPC Associate Fellow.