The news cycle hasn’t been kind to electric vehicles lately.

Earlier this month, reports emerged of a car charger that caused a fire at a home in Mooresville, N.C., resulting in $800,000 in damages. Duke Energy, the utility testing the car charger, had to ask the other customers in the pilot to stop using that brand of car charger.

The fire is still under investigation. Despite the fact that the figure is a drop in the bucket compared to gasoline station fires, it got a lot of press.

Now the Chevy Volt is embroiled in a separate media firestorm.

In mid-November, the Los Angeles Times reported that officials from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that a lithium-ion battery in a Chevy Volt caught fire more than three weeks after the car was put through crash safety tests.

A handful of other crash tests on Volts that purposely damaged the battery have also resulted in two other fires: one caught fire a week later and another began to smoke and spark a few hours after the test. According to the LA Times, one such conflagration consumed three other cars parked nearby.

On Monday, Chevy responded to nervous Volt owners by offering loaner cars to worried drivers. General Motors said it will contact all 5,329 Volt owners with an offer of a loaner after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced Friday it was opening a formal investigation into the fires.

The concern is a serious one, and General Motors will have to do damage control during the ongoing investigation to ameliorate drivers’ concerns. Depending on the findings of the investigation, Chevy may even have to go back to the drawing board.

However, fires after crashes are not unique to electric vehicles. About three percent of the more than 300,000 internal combustion vehicle fires between 2002 and 2005 were due to collision, but they caused more than half of the deaths from vehicle fires, according to the National Fire Protection Association. NHTSA has said it does not think the risk of fire is higher for an EV than for a regular car.

The concern for NHTSA is primarily for first responders and tow truck operators that may be handling the cars in the hours, days and weeks after a crash. There have not been any injuries or fires reported in consumer-owned vehicles.

In Other News

-- While we’re talking about cars, the LA Times also ran an interesting op-ed last week about the loopholes in the new MPG standards for cars and light trucks.

The op-ed notes that light trucks have the weakest of the new standards, and therefore carmakers could make more SUVs and trucks that have lower standards, rather than pushing the most fuel-efficient models.

It is true that Detroit’s sense of corporate responsibility could bend depending on how the new MPG standards make their way into the showroom. But the article failed to mention another driver: the driver.

New fuel economy stickers and a public that is eager to spend less on gas could drive the demand for truly efficient cars. Fuel efficiency is a top concern for consumers, according to a Consumer Reports survey. Seventy-three percent of the adult car owners surveyed said they were considering an alternative power train vehicle for their next purchase.

The LA Times can call on Detroit to make more efficient cars that meet and exceed government regulations, but Big Auto will also respond to the price of gas and the pull of consumers.


-- For those whose seasonal concerns are not centered on the LA Auto Show, the Wall Street Journal sets the record straight on the sustainability of that reusable fake Christmas tree that might be sitting in your attic.

It’s not very sustainable at all, The Nature Conservancy’s Bill Ulfelder tells WSJ. If chopping down a tree, or purchasing a chopped down tree, seems like a crime against nature, think again.

Christmas tree farms are havens for birds, create jobs and are sustainable. Look for trees that come from your local area, if possible. Fake trees, on the other hand, are made from petrochemicals, often come from far away places such as China and are not biodegradable once you decide to toss them in the garbage.

If you really want to get green, look for an organic Christmas tree or buy a live tree that you can replant after the holidays, or whenever the ground thaws -- if you can keep it alive for that long. At the very least, most cities have recycling programs for used trees that turn the trees into mulch.


-- If light bulbs are on your holiday shopping list (in which case, you might not be the envy of the office Secret Santa exchange), there’s an app for that. While we were perusing the DOE's blog, we saw that the Environmental Protection Agency recently announced the winner of its Apps for the Environment contest. The top dog was Eco Hatchery’s free Light Bulb Finder, which helps people choose the energy-efficient bulb that matches the fixture that needs a new light.

Not only does it match bulb to fixture -- the app also tells you how long the CFL or LED bulb will take to pay for itself. If you’re more of a Cyber Monday kind of shopper, you can order the bulb right from the app without braving the holiday crowds at a bricks-and-mortar store.

Eco Hatchery is working with local utilities and governments to also include incentive information. The question now is whether when you’re standing around confounded in the lighting aisles of Home Depot, will a little light bulb come on in your head to remind you that there’s an app for that?