In November, we ran a post regarding Chevy Volts and their purported proclivity to catch fire after impact. Sometimes long after impact. Like three weeks after impact. During the course of our discussion, we encouraged all the products hypochondriacs out there to take a deep breath and consider that maybe, just maybe, the Volts weren’t defectively designed, and therefore, were getting a bad rap.
I’m not usually a voice of moderation or restraint. And so it was an odd thing for me to be doing, actively encouraging both moderation and restraint at the same time. Overall, it was a very uncomfortable experience for me, and frankly, not much fun.
However, in this case, it was absolutely the appropriate response. On January 20, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (“NHTSA”) released a statement exonerating Chevy Volts regarding the conclusions of its investigation into the post-crash fire risk of Chevy Volts. What was that conclusion? Well, after a six week investigation, the Administration determined that “no discernible defect trend exists.” In other words, Chevy Volts are not homicidal death machines hell-bent on burning their unsuspecting passengers alive. I’d say that’s a definite win for consumer product safety. Case closed.
While it may be true that all’s well that ends well, I have a couple of lingering concerns. First of all, the entire investigation lasted six weeks. Which (we suppose) included Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, and the MLK holiday. Let’s be straight: How much federal work do we really think was done over that period of time? Four, maybe five days, tops? Seems like a brief investigation for an issue that received so much attention initially.
Frankly, I’m not so concerned with the amount of time that was involved in the investigation, primarily because I thought the allegations were bogus to begin with. I think I’m more concerned that there was so much alarm at the outset of the investigation for a claim that had no merit, and was shown to have no merit in a very short amount of time. After all, even if the Government had worked each and every day for the 6 weeks of their inquiry, in terms of investigations, 6 weeks is but a twinkling of the federal eye.
By contrast, how long will Chevy Volts feel the effects of their unfounded reputation as mobile electric chairs? How much business did Chevy lose as a direct and proximate consequence of alarmism and over-reaction? How much business will Chevy continue to lose? Obviously, the nature and severity of these harms is unquantifiable; the damage has been done, and the extent cannot be known. Of course, the Volt’s name has now been cleared, but surely that must seem like cold comfort.