NHTSA has opened a preliminary evaluation to assess complaints of fires in certain Chevrolet Bolt electric vehicles.
The agency's Office of Defects Investigation received two complaints regarding 2018 and 2019 Bolts that alleged "the vehicles caught fire under the rear seat while parked and unattended," according to a document filed Friday by NHTSA. After conducting additional research, the agency found a 2017 Bolt with a similar burn pattern in the interior rear seat area, NHTSA said.
One injury, from smoke inhalation, was reported. An estimated 77,842 vehicles from the 2017-20 model years could be affected, according to NHTSA.
"The safety of our products is the highest priority for the entire GM team," General Motors spokesperson Dan Flores said in a statement Tuesday to Automotive News. "We are cooperating with NHTSA in their investigation, and we are conducting our own investigation into these complaints as well."
In the three cases identified, NHTSA said "the fire damage appeared to be concentrated in the EV battery compartment area with penetration into the passenger compartment from under the rear seat," but the cause has not yet been determined.
U.S. safety regulators will evaluate the cause of the fires as well as the scope, frequency and consequence of the alleged defect.
Most NHTSA investigations start as preliminary evaluations, where agency engineers request information from the manufacturer, including data on complaints, injuries and warranty claims. The manufacturer can also present its view regarding the alleged defect and may issue a recall.
After the evaluation, NHTSA will either close the investigation or move into the next phase. If a safety-related defect exists, according to NHTSA, the agency may send a "recall request" letter to the manufacturer.