Since the issue first surfaced in 2020, battery fires in the Chevrolet Bolt have become a serious thorn in GM’s side. Initially concerning vehicles built for the 2017 to 2019 model years, GM spent a full $800 million last quarter dealing with the recall. The problem is only set to worsen, however, with GM just announcing it will extend the recall further. In addition to the remaining 2019 production, every Bolt EV and EUV from 2020 to the 2022 model year has been added to the list.
The recall adds 9,335 vehicles from the 2019 model year, and 63,683 cars built for the 2020 model year until today. In total, that’s 73,018 extra vehicles being recalled in the US and Canada markets alone. This more than doubles the initial recall which affected approximately 68,000 vehicles worldwide. With the recall stretching up until 2022 model year vehicles, this includes cars that are currently sitting on dealer lots ready for sale.
The news highlights broader issues with GM’s battery supplier, LG Chem. The root cause of the fires in 2017-2019 model year Bolts was narrowed down to defects found in cells produced at LG’s Ochang, Korea battery plant. However, further investigation has turned up defects in cells produced at other LG facilities, too. It’s this fact that broadened the recall to affect the entire Bolt fleet from 2019 onwards, as these vehicles had cells sourced from other LG battery plants.
The faults found in the affected batteries involve the combination of a torn anode tab and a folded separator, with both defects found in the same cell. The anode tab is responsible for conducting the electricity from the cell, so any damage could lead to increased resistance and thus higher temperatures under load. The separator material is a membrane responsible for allowing ions to move through the cell while keeping the anode and cathode materials separate. The separator is porous and also very thin to achieve this task. However, if it fails, it can lead to an internal short circuit, with the accompanying rapid heat build up and likely fire. Thus, if the delicate separator material is folded or otherwise not as it should be, it could lead to issues.
The press release notes that GM is pursuing LG for reimbursement for the issue. Huge sums have already been spent thus far, and GM estimates the new vehicles included in the recall will cost a further $1 billion to deal with.
Once vehicles have been dealt with through the recall process, GM will provide owners with an 8-year, 100,000 mile warranty covering the battery. In the meantime, owners are being asked to limit their vehicle’s state of charge and to park outside overnight to avoid the risk of a battery fire spreading to the home. The situation is serious enough that automotive journalist Roberto Baldwin noted that GM arranged to pick up his press loan Chevrolet Bolt as the recall was announced.
The news will come as a frustration to many thousands of Bolt owners who had thus far thought their vehicles weren’t affected by the problems. Behind closed doors, executives will be doing fierce battle over what has become an unmitigated disaster for GM’s mass-market electric car.
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