Chevy Bolt batteries continue to cause headaches for GM
NHTSA, the US American Federal Highway and Vehicle Safety Administration, launched an investigation in response to complaints about Chevrolet Bolt electric cars catching fire. Again, there appears to be a problem with the batteries.
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So far, there has not been an official recall. Still, it is also unclear whether the Opel Ampera-e is similarly affected, given that it is identical in construction and assembled at the same plant. According to US reports, the official probe now underway relates to 77,842 Bolt EVs from the 2017 through 2020 model years, when the Ampera-e was also built in large quantities.
Lately, quite a few of the world’s largest carmakers are wondering what the problem is with their car batteries: Hyundai is apparently working on a worldwide recall of the Kona Electric, whereby battery supplier LG Chem is looking into its responsibility. Both cars likely share the cells. BMW is again recalling plug-in hybrids, this time because of impurities in the battery. Deliveries of the Ford Kuga PHEV are still suspended because Ford apparently hasn’t solved the problem with the overheating battery yet, which is why no recall has been initiated.
Update 14 November 2020:
An official recall has started after the US transportation authority NHTSA initiated an investigation a month ago. The affected cars are 68,667 Bolts of the model years 2017 to 2019, of which 50,932 are in the USA. The NHTSA is warning owners not to park the cars in garages or near homes because of the risk of battery fires. GM recommends limiting the maximum charge level to 90 per cent and plans to update the battery software from 17 November.
Update 23 February 2021:
While Hyundai has now decided to replace the entire batteries of all 77,000 Kona Electric vehicles worldwide because of defective LG cells, General Motors has announced a software solution for its Chevrolet Bolt that is expected to eliminate the problem from April. Unfortunately, although Hyundai tried this first, the software solution was not enough to fix the problem.
GM now said to InsideEVs that the Chevrolet Bolt does not use the same LG cells as the Hyundai Kona Electric, explaining that the separator is different. The company continues to work on Bolt’s software update.
Update 5 May 2021:
General Motors is now providing a software solution to resolve the battery problems in the Chevrolet Bolt electric model. Meanwhile, another case of a Chevy Bolt catching fire is reported from Ashburn, Virginia. The circumstances remain unclear.
Update 2 June 2021:
General Motors recently provided a software solution that should finally solve the battery problems in the Bolt electric model. However, as the colleagues from InsideEVs now report, there is still no clear answer from the company as to the exact cause of the problem. GM is also apparently buying back some of the affected vehicles.
Update 15 July 2021
The battery problems with the Chevrolet Bolt are not abating despite the software update: The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has now published a warning in which owners of certain examples of the electric car from the model years 2017-2019 are urged to park their cars only outdoors and not near houses due to the risk of fire. In addition, the cars should not be charged unattended overnight.
Update 26 July 2021
There is now a second official recall for the Chevy Bolt. Around 69,000 vehicles made between 2017 and 2019 with LG cells are affected. The majority, around 51,000 vehicles, are on the road in the USA. The transportation authority NHTSA again warned owners not to park the cars in garages or near homes because of the risk of battery fires.
Despite the 2020 recall of 69,000 Bolts already on the road at the time, batteries in some vehicles have again caught fire, NHTSA said. Two of those fires occurred just in the past week, even though they had the latest software update applied – which GM said was supposed to be the solution to the problems. As a result, GM will now replace affected modules – probably all battery pack modules in case of doubt.
Update 19 August 2021
GM has now specified the schedule and work required for the second recall. The replacement is expected to begin later this month. As reported above, GM will replace all battery modules in the affected vehicles. However, GM says that only modules will be replaced instead of the complete battery packs, explaining that the battery pack housing, wiring and other pack components are not defective and do not need to be replaced.
Update 23 August 2021
Only days after GM has specified works for the second recall, it has expanded its recall of the Chevrolet Bolt again. Instead of the 2017 model years up to a certain 2019 production date, the batteries in the remaining 2019 model year vehicles and all 2020 to 2022 model year vehicles will now be replaced, according to General Motors. This means the new Bolt EUV is also affected.
In total, this adds 9,335 vehicles from MY2019 that were not previously affected. In addition, GM adds to this the model years 2020 to 2022, amounting to 63,683 units, meaning that around 142,000 vehicles are now affected, more than twice as many as before.
GM justifies the expansion with the results of its own investigations into LG’s manufacturing processes and battery pack disassembly. As a result, GM discovered “manufacturing defects in certain battery cells produced at LG manufacturing facilities outside of the Ochang, Korea plant.” The companies were “working to address the root cause of these defects,” the statement continued.
Instead of the $800 million (see August 11 update), the company is now budgeting $1 billion for the recall. “Our focus on safety and doing the right thing for our customers guides every decision we make at GM,” said Doug Parks, GM executive vice president, Global Product Development, Purchasing and Supply Chain. “As leaders in the transition to an all-electric future, we know that building and maintaining trust is critical. GM customers can be confident in our commitment to taking the steps to ensure the safety of these vehicles.”
Update 27 August 2021
General Motors’ ongoing problems with LG battery cells, which led to an expansion of the second recall of the Chevrolet Bolt a few days ago, may have been triggered by a misaligned factory robot. That’s according to a report by the blog Ars Technica, which spoke about the battery problems with Greg Less, technical director of the Battery Lab at the University of Michigan.
According to GM, two problems were discovered with the batteries: firstly, a tab on the anode was torn, and secondly, the separator foil was folded. According to Professor Less, the cracked anode tab would not be a big problem as long as the “separator was where it was supposed to be”. If the separator did not fit perfectly (and the foil even wrinkled) because of the possible misalignment of the production machine, this could lead to short circuits, according to the professor.
Update 31 August 2021
General Motors is now officially pausing production of the Chevrolet Bolt and its offshoot Bolt EUV due to ongoing battery problems. The repair process for the recall is also suspended as GM is still waiting to receive fault-free new battery modules from its supplier LG. “We will not resume repairs or restart production until we are confident LG is producing defect free products for us,” GM spokesperson Daniel Flores stated.
reuters.com, insideevs.com, electrek.co (update), chevrolet.com (update), nhtsa.gov (update), insideevs.com, insideevs.com (update), insideevs.com (May update software), insideevs.com (May update fire), insideevs.com (software update June), .nhtsa.gov (update 15 July), electrek.co, chevrolet.com (update 26 July), reuters.com, freep.com (both update 19 August), gm.com (GM statement 23 Aug ’21), arstechnica.com (update 27 August), theverge.com (update 31 August)