A U.S. House subcommittee plans to hold hearings in the third or fourth week of January to investigate why the government wasn’t more forthcoming about a June fire involving the Chevrolet Volt.
The subcommittee — under the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform — wants to know whether government officials, including those at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, purposely held back information on the Volt fire for political reasons.
The hearings, which have yet to be put on the schedule, will be held by the Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs, Stimulus Oversight and Government Spending.
“It gives us great concern that recent reports indicate important safety information may have been omitted in testimony before our committee just a few weeks ago,” said Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, the subcommittee’s chairman, in a statement. “This is a serious situation that our committee will look further into.”
The hearings will investigate whether the government’s push to promote electric cars as part of new fuel economy standards influenced the timing of NHTSA’s disclosure about the fire, according to one congressional source.
NHTSA crash tested the Volt on May 12. Three weeks later, the Volt’s battery caught fire in a storage facility, and the agency informed General Motors of the blaze but at the time said nothing to the public.
Not until the agency and GM did more testing did they reveal in November that the Volt’s battery had caught fire in June. On Nov. 25, NHTSA announced it was opening a safety investigation to assess the risk of battery-related fires.
Earlier this year, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House oversight committee, began trying to get answers about how the government reached a proposal to double the corporate average fuel economy standard to 54.5 mpg by the 2025 model year.
Officials from GM and NHTSA have said they didn’t disclose the June fire to the public because it was a singular instance, occurring three weeks after the crash and they hadn’t been able to replicate it in subsequent tests.
On Nov. 11, NHTSA acknowledged the June fire in the press and continued to test the Volt batteries. In three lab tests the week of Nov. 14, one Volt battery began to smoke and emit sparks within hours of a simulated crash; another caught fire.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told reporters that the Volt is safe to drive and denied the government withheld information on the Volt blaze in June to protect the automaker, according to The Detroit News.