While it may be the first "extended-range electric vehicle" ever sold in volume, the 2012 Chevrolet Volt cuts no corners on safety. It has been awarded top scores and the best ratings from both the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). That means it ranks among the safest cars on the market, period.
GM engineers subjected the Volt to all standard crash-safety tests, paying particular attention to the T-shaped lithium-ion battery pack that sits in the tunnel and under the rear seats. That pack is strengthened with beams that transfer crash loads straight through it and into the rest of the car's structure.
During the fall of 2011, a fire in a Volt sitting in a wrecking yard--three weeks after it was destroyed by the NHTSA in a crash test--brought GM a lot of unwelcome media attention. The company noted that the wrecked car's battery pack had not been drained of its energy, as gasoline tanks in wrecked cars are routinely drained.
GM and the NHTSA are working together to identify the cause of the fire, and it's possible that 2011 and 2012 Volts may be recalled if the investigation shows that additional safety measures are required. It's worth noting, however, that conventional cars in the U.S. experience roughly 250,000 gasoline fires per year--many of those during the accident, not three weeks later.
Inside, eight airbags protect the Volt's four passengers. In front, dashboard and side airbags are joined by knee bolsters, and side air curtains stretch the full length of the passenger compartment.
The usual list of electronic safety measures--including anti-lock brakes, stability and traction control, and other systems--keep the 2012 Volt well behaved. Every Volt is fitted with GM's OnStar telecommunications system, which for 2012 includes three years of free service.
The 2012 Volt has a user-activated "chirping" noise that the driver can trigger by pulling the indicator lever, giving the driver a way to alert pedestrians if the car is approaching quietly. It does not have an automatic noise generator, as some other hybrid or electric-drive cars now do.