Electric cars not prone to fires

* Probe after Chevrolet Volt fire * Caused by leaking battery coolant * after US crash test...

Electric cars not prone to fires

Electric cars are no more prone to catch fire than conventionally fuelled vehicles, according to an investigation by a US Government agency.

The ruling, which could have had far-reaching implications on the UK market, is a boost to General Motors' (GM) alternative-fuel programme, after a fire in a Chevrolet Volt prompted the probe by America's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

GM's programme, which also includes the closely related Vauxhall Ampera, was hit by concerns over vehicle safety when a Volt caught fire shortly after being crash tested.

The NHTSA instigated the investigation on November 25, five months after the fire at its test facility in Wisconsin. The Volt caught fire after battery coolant leaked during a simulated roll-over crash.

US consumer confidence in electric and range-extender vehicles, such as the Volt, was hit by the probe. A survey in 2009 revealed that 48% of US car buyers were 'very' or 'extremely' interested in buying an electric car, but that figure had fallen to 40% by the end of December 2011.

The NHTSA officially closed its investigation last week after concluding: 'Based on the available data, NHTSA does not believe that Chevrolet Volts or other electric vehicles pose a greater risk of fire than petrol-powered vehicles.'

Pete Barden