Nobody wants to drive a car that randomly catches fire.
This is why GM is recalling every single Chevrolet Bolt ever made, according to a release from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). This includes the new all-electric utility vehicle models, with recalls following concerns surrounding a manufacturing defect in the vehicles' LG batteries.
The defect could lead to a fire erupting from the batteries, so owners are cautioned to keep their vehicles outside, with battery power at or below 90%.
More than 142,000 of GM's Chevy Bolts have defective batteries
The Bolt was initially recalled last November, after five cars erupted in flames without apparent external cause (like a crash). After evaluating the incidents, Chevy recalled a second batch last month, and narrowed the problem down to a pair of manufacturing defects that can happen at the same time, compounding the danger. These defects include a folded separator and a torn anode tab, and together set the stage for an electrical short in affected cells.
As of writing, the company has identified 10 discrete fires that were caused (at least in part) by faulty batteries, according to an AP report.
This latest recall (the third) involves all 73,000 Bolts manufactured from 2019 to 2022, bringing the sum of defective vehicles up to 142,000, more than 100,000 of which were sold in the U.S. GM thinks the first recalls will cost $800 million, but the latest one could add $1 billion more.
Unsurprisingly, GM is seeking reimbursement from LG for the defective batteries.
But to fix the issue, the automaker will replace the batteries in every vehicle. That's a lot of batteries, so it will take some time, but until replacement non-defective batteries are available to directly replace the old ones, once again, GM urged Bolt owners to park their cars outside and keep the battery charged at 90% or lower.
The electric car industry will inevitably hit more speedbumps
The battery replacements could be readied sooner with the help of LG Chem, which is working with GM to accelerate the production of new cells.
At first, the potentially dangerous batteries were thought to have been manufactured only in an LG Chem factory in Ochang, South Korea, but another vehicle fire in Chandler, Arizona, which saw a 2019 Bolt erupt in flames, caused investigators to look elsewhere. And they discovered that the issues were also present in batteries built in other LG factories.
This comes as a significant setback for LG Chem and GM, who are engaged in a multibillion-dollar joint venture to produce Ultium batteries designed to power a wide spectrum of new electric vehicles.
The pair of firms have announced two $2.3 billion battery factories in Tennessee and Ohio, the first of which will begin production in 2022. The partnership runs back to 2008, when GM selected LG Chem to produce the battery packs for its Chevy Volt hybrid. This was an informed partnership on GM's part, since the Korean company had an established reputation of forging new ground in the nascent lithium-ion battery industry. It's still a good call, since a primary competitor for the contract, called A123, suffered a very serious setback once its batteries were linked to a string of defective Fisker Karma plug-in hybrids.
As we've said before, new industries can't succeed without hitting several speed bumps.
This is a big one, but, like reusability for SpaceX's fleet of rockets, lithium-ion batteries are the core concept that makes future hybrids and all-electric cars a viable alternative to fossil fuels. It may take some years before GM can fully replace all batteries and recoup its costs, but it's far better that this defect was caught, rather than sitting silently in the homes of hundreds of thousands of owners.