After the first battery fire, GM officials complained that NHTSA did not drain the battery of energy as called for under the automaker's crash procedures. NHTSA normally drains fuel from gasoline-powered cars after crash tests, they said.
Lithium-ion batteries, which are rechargeable, have been the subject of several recalls of consumer electronics. Millions of laptop batteries made by Sony Corp. for Apple Inc., Dell Inc., Lenovo Group Ltd. and other PC makers were recalled in 2006 and 2007 after it was discovered that they could overheat and ignite.
The Federal Aviation Administration issued a warning to airlines about the potential for fires in cargo containing lithium-ion and non-rechargeable lithium metal batteries after a United Parcel Service plane crashed near Dubai last year, killing both pilots. The plane, which was on fire, was carrying thousands of lithium batteries.
Incorrectly packaged, damaged or overheated batteries can catch fire, the FAA said. Fires involving lithium-ion batteries can reach 1,100 degrees, close to the melting point of aluminum, a key material in airplane construction. Lithium-metal battery fires are far hotter, capable of reaching 4,000 degrees.
GM and NHTSA have pointed out that cars with gasoline-powered engines are susceptible to fires after a crash.
In the event of a crash, NHTSA's advice to consumers is to do the same thing they would do in a gasoline-powered car — get out of the vehicle and move a safe distance away. The agency also recommends against storing a severely damaged electric car in a garage or near other vehicles.
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