General Motors, partly owned by a government that wants automakers to discontinue the internal combustion engine, has a problem, writes Ken Green:
Several crash tests have suggested that the plug-in hybrid Volt, the flagship vehicle at Government Motors, has a bit of a problem: when hit or badly disturbed in accident tests, the Volt's Lithium-Ion (Li-ion) battery packs have been seen to spark, or burst into flames afterward. […]
While few may remember it now, GM’s EV-1 also had battery-related problems. In the case of the EV-1, fires, euphemistically known as “thermal incidents” were happening when people plugged the cars in to recharge. GM had to recall 600 of its first-generation electric cars after 16 such “thermal incidents” including one where the vehicle was engulfed in fire.
What is surprising here is that people are surprised. After the rash of exploding notebook computers a few years back, people might have thought about the wisdom of trying to run a car on the same kind of batteries that can detonate your laptop. As John Hockenberry wrote in a Wired article in 2006, “The technical term for these bizarre incidents is thermal runaway. It occurs when the touchy elements inside a Li-ion battery heat up to the point where the internal reaction accelerates, creating even more heat. A sort of mini China Syndrome of increasing temperature builds until something must give. In the case of a laptop flameout, the chemicals break out of their metal casing. Because lithium ignites when it makes contact with the moisture in the air, the battery bursts into flame.” Hockenberry predicted that things would only get worse, as more is demanded of a battery technology that is at its practical limits.
See: “The Failed Chevy Volt that Just Won’t Go Away,” Real Clear Politics, November 30, 2011.