Controversy swirling around the safety of the Chevrolet Volt's lithium ion batteries has turned political.
Three House Republicans are taking U.S. safety regulators and General Motors to task for waiting five months to tell the public about a plug-in hybrid Volt that caught fire in June, several weeks after a crash test.
"We are deeply troubled by the fact that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has deliberately suppressed public knowledge of the safety risk posed by the Chevrolet Volt," Reps. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., Jim Jordan, R-Ohio and Mike Kelly, R-Pa, wrote in a letter last week to NHTSA Administrator David Strickland.
The three members of the House Oversight Committee asked NHTSA to explain the delay.
They also sent a letter to GM CEO Dan Akerson last week asking for a "detailed narrative" on how the company first learned about the fire and why it didn't disclose it sooner. The letter asks: "In light of the public outrage over Toyota's delayed disclosure [of safety problems in 2009 and 2010], why did GM fail to disclose safety deficiencies with the Volt for five months?"
The Volt caught fire in a NHTSA storage facility three weeks after the agency crash tested it on May 12. Not until November did GM and NHTSA announce to the public that the fire had occurred.
According to the letters, the House Oversight Committee, which Issa chairs, seeks to determine whether NHTSA and GM kept quiet about the fire to protect the image of the Volt and other electric cars, which the Obama administration has supported.
The panel's subcommittee on regulatory affairs, chaired by Jordan, plans a hearing on the matter in late January.
In both letters, the committee asks GM and NHTSA to respond by Dec. 21.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, speaking in Washington last week, insisted the government had not withheld information on the Volt fire to protect GM.
Said LaHood: "That is absolutely not true."