NHTSA to hold a lithium-ion battery safety forum next month in D.C.


The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is set to hold a technical symposium in Washington, D.C. on May 18 to discuss regulatory and safety issues surrounding lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery-powered vehicles, Bloomberg reports.

The meeting comes almost a year after General Motor’s Chevrolet Volt caught on fire following a crash-testing – causing consumers to raise questions regarding the Volt’s safety. The incident also came less than a month after an extreme testing of a battery prototype lead to an explosion at General Motors Tech Center in Warren, Michigan that injured several people.

Advanced lithium-ion battery manufacturer A123 Systems announced last month it would recall electric batteries made for Fisker Automotive following a very public and embarrassing shut down of Fisker Karma during a Consumer Reports testing of the extended-range plug-in hybrid.

According to recent data, electric vehicles were the fastest-growing segment in the US auto industry in the first quarter of this year, up 3.4 percent from last year’s 2.6 percent.

In recognition of the rapidly growing electric vehicle segment, the NHTSA intends to hold its informal symposium in order to channel its attention on increased lithium-ion battery safety, “bring relevant stakeholders to share information on the status of safety activities related to the use of lithium-ion batteries in vehicles designed for on-road use,” as well as promote and devise industry standards in regards to EV batteries.

And while the EV market is certainly growing, experts within the automotive industry (including proponents of EVs) have theorized the perceived safety issue surrounding battery-powered electrics as one of the main reasons — along with a higher entry cost. This has caused consumers to hesitate in making the switch from conventional-powered gasoline cars to electric vehicles, further preventing growth.

The proliferation of EVs has been somewhat of a focus for the Obama administration, with the President prioritizing funding and offering a $7,500 federal tax credit for individuals purchasing plug-in cars. Additionally, the administration is also providing billions of dollars in Department of Energy grants and loans to companies, such as Tesla Motors and Fisker Automotive, for battery and vehicle development.

Subsequently, it has also become somewhat of a contested political issue with many politicians like Newt Gingrich and media outlets such as Fox News highly, most of whom are critical of cars like the Chevy Volt and the President’s clean energy policy — citing the Department of the Treasury’s $527 million loan to now bankrupt solar panel manufacturer Solyndra as a prime example of government mismanagement.

[Image credit: AlexKalashnikov/Shutterstock]

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