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2012 Chevrolet Volt

Because U.S. safety regulators are investigating a potential fire hazard in crashed Chevrolet Volts, General Motors will offer current Volt owners in the United States and Canada alternate vehicles until a remedy can be found.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration late last week announced an official safety investigation into GM's plug-in halo vehicle. GM Canada responded early this week by announcing that it would offer any Volt driver concerned about the potential for fires in its extended-range electric vehicle a free loaner car, though Volt owners will still be expected to make payments on their financed or leased car.

The U.S. investigation follows a crash test in May that led to a Volt catching fire three weeks after it was seriously damaged in side crash and rollover tests. After determining the cause to come from the battery pack, engineering consultations with GM, the U.S. department of Defence and Energy performed further tests last week. In those, three Volt battery packs were tested in a lab, to try to replicate the same conditions of that test that led to the fire, simulating a severe side crash and rollover.

The first battery test showed no issues, NHTSA said in a statement. The second produced a fire days after the test, and the third test battery began emitting sparks and smoke within hours of it being turned upside down after the crash test, which NHTSA also termed a "fire incident." It was the later fire on pack number two that prompted the formal safety investigation, which could lead to a recall of the Volt if the NHTSA finds an "unreasonable risk to safety."

The concern is more acute for repair facility safety and emergency response personnel rather than for owners, who likely won't park their crashed Volt in their garage or driveway right after a serious collision.

"NHTSA is not aware of any roadway crashes that have resulted in battery-related fires in Chevy Volts or other vehicles powered by lithium-ion batteries," the U.S. auto safety regulator said in its statement. "However, the agency is concerned that damage to the Volt's batteries as part of three tests that are explicitly designed to replicate real-world crash scenarios have resulted in fire."

The NHTSA stressed, however, that its testing has not uncovered any safety issues with other gas-electric plug-in vehicles or pure battery electric vehicles, other than the Volt.

GM is moving swiftly to address safety concerns from owners. The company says Volt ambassadors at its call centre will be available to discuss the loans with Volt owners – the company had sold 215 of the plug-in cars in Canada by the end of October.

GM says it's too early to say what vehicles will be offered, only that it will fit owners' needs. But these loaners likely won't include high-end vehicles such as the Cadillac Escalade, judging from the response of another GM Canada spokesperson. "A Volt and an Escalade are two very different vehicles."

Porsche Canada's high-end winter driving school near Quebec's Mont-Tremblant will offer the first seat time in the next-generation 911 in North America, when the Camp4 Canada program in Caymans and 911s returns in late January.

The program will be run with 400-hp S versions of the new "991" generation 911, where participants will learn and practice their snow and ice driving skills on a dedicated winter facility called Mecaglisse, located north of Montreal. Two snowy road courses and a huge skidpad will be tackled with both rear-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive Porsches.

For drivers who completed the first Camp4 Canada course last year, or other similar Porsche courses elsewhere, an advanced Camp4S course offers higher speeds on a unique course, and more challenging car control exercises.

The three-day Camp4 courses runs for $4,995, and $5,495 for the Camp4S, which both include all lodging, meals and transfers, though not transportation there. Details are at

Collaborators Toyota and Subaru both revealed their long-teased affordable sports cars at the Tokyo motor show this week, and not surprisingly, the specs for the two co-developed rear-wheel-drive coupes bear many resemblances.

Subaru's will be called the BRZ, while Toyota labels its car simply the 86 in Japan, the GT 86 in Europe and the Scion FR-S in North America. The cars will be powered by a 2.0-litre, horizontally opposed, four-cylinder engine making about 200 hp (197 in the Toyota) and 151 lb-ft of torque, 2+2 seating, six-speed transmissions in manual or automatic versions.

The Subaru will weigh 1,220 kg (2,689 pounds), which should mean that both offer tasty if not quite scintillating acceleration, but the low-mounted boxer engine and rear-drive means that fine handling will be the major enthusiast hook to these two-doors.