Last year, Chevrolet recalled certain 2017, 2018, and 2019 Chevy Bolts after 5 of the cars suffered battery fires. Never mind there are an average of 150 fires involving gasoline-powered cars each and every day in America. There were 5 Bolt battery fires! Quick! We must run and tell the king! Rest assured the oil companies were happy to spread the alarm far and wide.
The batteries involved were manufactured by LG Chem — now LG Energy Solution — which is involved with General Motors in a big way. The two companies are far along with the construction of a battery factory in Lordstown, Ohio and have just announced they will build another in Spring Hill, Tennessee. LG also is a major supplier of EV batteries to Hyundai and KIA, both of which have experienced a few battery fires (approximately 9 world wide) as well.
Hyundai and KIA have elected to replace the battery packs in over 85,000 vehicles in order to address the battery fire issue, a campaign that will cost nearly $1 billion. But GM has decided to go its own way on this issue. The Detroit News reported on April 29 that General Motors believes its engineers have solved the battery fire issue and cone up with a fix that will allow all affected cars to charge to 100% safely. GM spokesman Dan Flores told Detroit News the fires were caused by a “rare manufacturing defect in certain battery modules in vehicles from these production years.” That defect could cause “a heat source or a short in a cell, which could propagate into a fire.”
To fix the issue, GM engineers created tools for “dealers to diagnose battery issues as well as advanced onboard diagnostic software that, among other things, has the ability to detect potential issues related to changes in battery module performance before they become potential problems during vehicle operation and charging,” Flores said.
Customers with the affected Bolts will have to visit a participating Chevrolet EV dealer to have the remedy completed installed, one instance when an over the air update would be a great convenience for customers. After the fix is installed, Bolt drivers will be able to charge their cars to 100% of capacity. The diagnostic software will send “different warnings to the driver and different responses from the vehicle depending on the nature of the problem,” Flores said. “In all cases, the diagnostics illuminate a warning lamp on the vehicle’s gauge cluster.”
People driving a 2019 Bolt can call their dealer now to schedule a service appointment. Customers with 2017 and 2018 model year Bolt EVs will be eligible to have the fix added to their cars by the end of May. GM plans to make advanced diagnostic software available to all other Bolt EV owners in the coming months and the diagnostic software will come standard in the 2022 Bolt EV and EUV and other future GM electric vehicles.
That’s all good news, but doesn’t answer why Hyundai and KIA couldn’t come up with a similar solution, particularly because the battery cells involved appear to have been manufactured in the same battery factory in South Korea. The GM solution should cost way less than the $1 billion the Korean companies say they will spend to solve the issue.
Nobody wants to be involved in a vehicle fire, nor should they be a common occurrence. But it is difficult to understand why no one bats an eyelash over gasoline fires but everyone goes ballistic when an EV battery has a meltdown. It is reminiscent of the early days of the automobile when people were terrified about horseless carriages to the point where some cities required a person to walk in front of them sounding a klaxon to warn the citizenry one of those newfangled machines was approaching.
I am not advocating that we ignore battery fires. I am advocating that we take gasoline vehicle fires more seriously and take meaningful steps to reduce their numbers. If the press would calm down and stop spreading lies about battery fires that just get people stirred up, that would be helpful as well.