The Chevy Volt – Hot for All the Wrong Reasons.

The National Highway Safety Administration has opened a formal investigation looking into cases where the Chevy Volt has caught on fire.

And by “on fire,” we don’t mean “sales of the Volt are hot.”

Federal safety regulators announced Friday that they have opened “a formal safety defect investigation” into the Chevrolet Volt over concerns the electric car’s battery may pose a significant fire risk.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has been looking at the car for months, explaining in a press release that this includes crash-testing the Volt in May and conducting three tests last week focused specifically on the vehicle’s lithium-ion batteries.

“The agency is concerned that damage to the Volt’s batteries as part of three tests that are explicitly designed to replicate real-world crash scenarios have resulted in fire,” the administration said. “NHTSA is therefore opening a safety defect investigation of Chevy Volts, which could experience a battery-related fire following a crash.”

The announcement was made on Friday – Black Friday – when most people had the day off and were watching football, shopping, or wondering how they ate that much turkey yesterday. Any “news” was not on the radar as most major newspeople were at home. Analysts were home too. This means the results of the tests were known last week, but not announced until a day when they could be buried.

You don’t think there might be a reason for trying to bury bad news about the flagship car of GM and Obama’s dream for reshaping the way America travels, do you?

You aren’t that cynical, are you?

Well, we are.

Not only has the NHSTA opened a formal investigation, it is the only one related to electric and electric hybreds.

NHTSA testing on electric vehicles to date has not raised safety concerns about vehicles other than the Chevy Volt,” the agency noted.

This is the second blow in the past few weeks to the electric and electric hybred car industry.

Several weeks ago, Duke Energy in North Carolina, South Carolina and Indiana told customers to stop using charging stations. In an email to customers, the company wrote:

“We have recently learned that firefighters in Mooresville, North Carolina, responded to a garage and house fire late on October 30. There was a plug-in electric vehicle, a charging station and a number of other items in the garage at the time of the fire. We have no reason to believe that the charging station contributed to the fire, but out of an abundance of caution, we suggest that our current pilot participants consider not using the charging station installed as part of Duke Energy’s Charge Carolinas and Project Plug IN pilots until we have additional information. We are working closely with the local fire marshal and our own experts to determine the cause of the fire and will update you as the cause becomes clearer. If you have questions please call 1.800.937.3853.”

Back in February of 2001, the Senate held hearings after it was reported Toyota had sudden acceleration problems with their cars. It was great theater and lots of ink and air time was devoted to demonizing Toyota.

(In fact, ABC’s Brian Williams was given the coveted Edward R. Murrow Award for his reporting on the Toyota scare. The award was given despite Williams and ABC faking the reports.)

Toyota recalled millions of cars and installed new software with additional safety features built into it that would add to the triple redundancy of safety features already built into the car. In addition, Toyota changed the way floormats were secured in the car. It was a political and marketing nightmare for Toyota who had to defend its products.

When Toyota was called onto the Congressional carpet, there was one problem – one major problem: the NHSTA could not reproduce any sudden acceleration problems. All of the incidents were put down to customer error. At the time of the hearings, the NHSTA knew this, but did not release the information. They did release their findings months after the hearings and months after the damage to Toyota.

For days the executives of Toyota had to sit in hearings while Senators played to the crowd and berated Toyota for a problem that didn’t exist.

Yet when it comes to the Chevy Volt, the announcement there is an issue comes on a day when no one is paying attention.

Is there a real world problem with the Volt?

We don’t know.

What we do find curious is the faux outrage at the non-existent Toyota scare which harmed that company when compared to the timing of the release of the threat of fire in the Chevy Volt. It almost seems as if the government is deliberately trying to harm Toyota while protecting its investment and image in General Motors and its divisions.

The sales of the Volt have been anemic to say the least. Chevy wanted to sell 10,000 Volts in 2011. Although sales jumped to 1,108 cars in October, that only brings the total to 5003 Volts driven off of Chevy lots for the year – barely 50% of the yearly goal. By any measure, the Volt is not doing well in sales.

Therefore Chevrolet and by extension the government who bailed Chevy out, has a vested interest in keeping any negative news on the Volt out of the press. Such negative news would not be good for the company and President Obama, who has touted the Volt as part of the key to the future.

We’ll see when the Senate announces Toyota-esque hearings on who designed the Volt and its batteries. We are sure that such an announcement will be met with great fanfare and production equal to that heaped upon Toyota.

But we aren’t holding our breath for it.

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