Investigation Closed, Everything NormalA few weeks ago, some fires during crash-testing of the Chevy Volt by the National Highway Transport Safety Administration (NHTSA) caused quite a media stir, even pushing GM to offer loaners or even buybacks to Volt owners and to do a voluntary "call back" of Volts to reinforce the structure surrounding the battery pack. There was much schadenfreude from the anti-EV crowd, but it now looks like their cynical rejoicing was premature; the NHTSA has closed its safety defect investigation and concluded that "Based on the available data, NHTSA does not believe that Chevy Volts or other electric vehicles pose a greater risk of fire than gasoline-powered vehicles. Generally all vehicles have some risk of fire in the event of a serious crash." So basically, it's great if GM can make the Volt even safer than it already was, but it wasn't any worse than a gas car to begin with.
Don't Read Too Much Into 2011 Sales Figures
If the Volt has a problem, it might be in the sales department. It is reported that some dealerships aren't seeing sales materialize and GM hasn't reached its 10,000 units target for 2011, though it got up to 76% of that goal. I think it's too early to generalize about the market for electric cars, though (especially since Nissan is doing pretty well with its LEAF). There can be tons of reasons why these aren't flying off the lots, including: Some people might want an electric car, but they are waiting for more models to be out. Or they're waiting for prices to drop some more. Or they were scared off by the mediatic storm around the fire risks. Or they are holding off because of all the negative headlines about the economy. Or they're not early adopters and are waiting for the second generation of EVs with longer ranges. Or they just need more time to become comfortable with the idea of plug-in vehicles (like many people did with hybrids a few years ago).
It could be any number of reasons, but what we must remember is that the adoption of a new technology is usually non-linear. It can be slow for a while, until a tipping point is reached (for example a combination of longer battery range, lower prices, and higher gasoline prices) and then there's massive acceleration in the trend.