In South Korea, Hyundai has had to recall around 25,000 Kona Electric for a faulty battery part. This follows around 13 incidents involving the LG Chem batteries of Kona electric cars. It is unclear if other markets are affected as well.
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The background to the recall is that several vehicles of this model had caught fire. However, according to Reuters, this is a voluntary recall by the car manufacturer, not a recall action ordered by the ministry. Starting 16 October, 25,564 Kona Elektro cars are to be recalled.
According to Reuters, the vehicles in question were built between September 2017 and March 2020. As the Korea Herald writes, it is only supposed to be the period from 29 September 2019 to 13 March 2020.
What also remains unclear, is the exact scope of the recall. According to the Korea Herald, Hyundai will update “battery related software” and replace the entire battery system during the recall. According to Korea JoongAng Daily, “The automaker plans to look into any anomalies in the batteries after updating its battery management system and immediately replace them if there are any signs of damage, including significant changes to the battery temperature.” Reuters has reported that the recall includes software updates and battery replacements after inspections, involve 25,564 Kona electric vehicles (EVs) built between September 2017 and March 2020 and cites a ministry statement, as do the other two publications.
It would be an important distinction whether batteries are replaced generally or only if the updated BMS detects suspected damage since this would have a massive impact on the cost of the recall.
It is also still unclear whether vehicles in Germany or elsewhere in Europe or the UK are affected. Since one of the vehicle fires occurred in Austria and one in Canada, North America may – or may not – be affected. Electrive has asked Hyundai for further comment and will update as soon as we have a response.
Until production of the Kona Electric started at the European plant in the Czech Republic, all of the electric cars were imported from Ulsan. This is still the case for the 100 kW version of the Kona Electric, as only the 150 kW Kona is manufactured in Nosovice for Europe.
According to Korea JoongAng Daily the first incident occurred at the automaker’s Ulsan plant on 19 May in 2018. In the meantime, there have been 12 separate incidents involving Kona EVs bursting into flames.
The Korean newspaper wrote that the most recent incident happened last weekend in South Korea when a car burst into flames as it was being charged at an apartment parking lot in Daegu. No one was hurt, but the vehicle was completely immolated.
The batteries are produced by LG Chem, whereby the company said in a statement that the exact cause of the fire had not yet been determined. The South Korean battery-making giant said that a reenacted experiment already carried out in cooperation with Hyundai had not let to a fire. The company said the fires could not be attributed to faulty battery cells but said that it would actively participate in a future investigation with Hyundai to identify the cause of the problem.
Update 12 October 2020: As the South Korean Yonhap News Agency (YNA) reported over the weekend citing industry circles, Hyundai has now decided to recall all Kona Electric that were voluntarily sold overseas. According to the YNA report, this now affects around 77,000 Kona Electric units built between September 2017 and March 2020.
In the USA, Hyundai Motor America has probably already submitted a recall plan to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). It is not yet clear whether a similar step is being taken in Europe. The plan will affect 11,000 vehicles in North America and more than 37,000 vehicles in Europe, as well as 3,000 Kona Electric vehicles in other countries. Regarding the scope of the recall, YNA merely states that Hyundai will probably offer “similar services” overseas, i.e. the software update of the battery management system announced in South Korea and if there are signs of damage, the replacement of the battery.
Meanwhile, Kona Electric’s battery cell supplier, LG Chem, is defending itself against the South Korean Ministry of Transport’s representation. In the original reports, the ministry had cited the faults in the battery cells as the cause. According to LG Chem, the exact cause of the fires has yet to be determined. This would probably involve the question of whether the cell itself is the cause or the control system programmed by Hyundai.
This is exactly what the German publication Auto, Motor und Sport suspects: In the Hyundai Ioniq Electric and the Renault Zoe, batteries “with similar or identical specifications are used”. “However, these two models did not suffer such frequent fire accidents. Accordingly, experts believe that it is necessary to examine the battery cells, the Kona Elektro and the BMS”, says the AMS report.
This assumption that battery management plays a role is also supported by a case about which electrive has received information. After a sudden loss of range (only about 300 kilometres available on a Kona with a 64-kWh battery), a driver suspected a defect in the battery but received no error message. The user found out the individual cells via EVnotify and Torque, revealing that one cell only reached 3.08 volts, while all other cells in the battery pack were at 3.48 volts at the charge level. However, the battery management system did not recognize the individual cell and switched it off.
After the Hyundai workshop had also used this information to measure the defective cell, new BMS software was installed that will possibly be the software that is now to be installed when the recall is made. With the improved software that should now be able to detect individual cells, the BMS immediately switched off the affected Kona Electric, while the problem was solved only when an exchange of several battery modules was undertaken. Although there was no fire, there was a combination of a defective cell and a BMS that did not detect the defective cell and switched it off.
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