WASHINGTON (Bloomberg) -- U.S. auto-safety investigators needed time to determine if a General Motors Co. Chevrolet Volt or another vehicle was the source of a fire after a May crash test, which is why they didn't immediately disclose the information, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said today.
It's "absolutely not true" that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration withheld information about the electric car's safety, LaHood told reporters today in Washington, when asked about criticism from Congress members including U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif.
"We have opened an investigation into battery-related fires that may occur some time after a severe crash," LaHood said. "Chevy Volt owners can be confident that their cars are safe to drive."
GM, which has made the Volt one of the centerpieces of its U.S. marketing, has offered loaner cars or to buy back Volts from owners concerned about safety. The Volt has been on the U.S. market for a year and went on sale in all 50 states in October. GM sold 6,142 Volts this year through November.
LaHood's agency last month disclosed that a Volt caught fire three weeks after being crash-tested at a NHTSA test facility on May 12. U.S. regulators opened an investigation Nov. 25 into the safety of the Volt's lithium-ion batteries, which are supplied by Seoul-based LG Chem Ltd. NHTSA isn't investigating Nissan Motor Co.'s Leaf or Tesla Motors Inc.'s Roadster, both of which have lithium-ion batteries.
Issa was one of three U.S. House members who sent a letter Wednesday to NHTSA Administrator David Strickland saying regulators "deliberately suppressed public knowledge of the safety risk posed by the Chevrolet Volt's lithium-ion battery system."
A subcommittee of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, headed by Issa, plans a hearing on the matter in late January. LaHood and Strickland declined to comment on whether the Volt should retain its top crash-safety rating from the U.S. and on what investigators have found so far.
"As soon as we have additional information on our testing and on our investigation, we'll disclose it," LaHood said. Regulators announced the Volt investigation the end of Nov. 25, the day after the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday.