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Nissan and Ford Respond to Chevy Volt Fire Issue

The design of the Nissan LEAF battery pack could reduce driving range during extreme temperatures, but might make it safer than batteries using liquid coolant.

A year ago, PluginCars.com contributor Tom Molougney wondered if Nissan made the right call to not use an active thermal management system—which could be the key to maintaining expected driving range in extreme temperatures. At the time, Nissan said, “We are confident the LEAF will perform well in all ambient temperatures.”

New light is cast on that question, now that the Chevy Volt’s liquid coolant has been identified as a possible cause of fires that might occur weeks after a severe accident. The response from Nissan—which doesn’t use liquid cooling in the LEAF—has been to distance itself from the issue. For Ford, which does utilize liquid thermal management in its upcoming Focus Electric, the response is to reassure the public about its safety.

Nissan’s U.S. product safety director, Bob Yakushi, last week told Edmunds’ AutoObserver that circumstances that appear to have led to post-crash Chevy Volt fires simply don’t exist in the Nissan LEAF. Yakushi points out that the LEAF’s 24-kWh lithium-ion battery pack is encased in a damage-resistant steel enclosure and surrounded by a crash-safety structure that’s located inside of the electric hatchback’s overall crash-safety protection zone. “It’s a three-layer system,” said Yakushi.

Rather than employing an active thermal control system, Nissan relies on the existing airflow—sometimes referred to as “passive air cooling”—to regulate the temperature of the LEAF’s battery pack. Therefore, the LEAF doesn’t have any internal cooling lines that could break and potentially leak fluid after a severe accident. Without fluid, it’s unlikely that the LEAF’s battery pack would produce a fire after being damaged, according to Yakushi.
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