The Chevrolet Bolt has evolved from being General Motors’ superstar EV, radiating optimism for the company’s ambitious electrification strategy, to a public relations nightmare in relatively short order. While sales of the hatchback (and EUV) actually skyrocketed in Q2 of 2021, thanks largely to a diminished production output from the same period in 2020, shoppers are becoming aware of the fire reports and prolonged recall campaign that followed.
Another chapter has been added to that story, with GM now convinced that this will be the conclusion of the dejected tale. On Monday, the manufacturer issued an announcement that batteries for the Bolt had resumed production. But they won’t be coming out of the South Korean facility owned by LG Chem that’s been alleged as ground zero for the relevant defects. GM has instead elected to source the units from Michigan while LG improves quality assurance with the automaker peering over its shoulder, hopeful that customers will someday be able to use their car normally. Sadly, that moment still looks to be several months away.
“We’re grateful for the patience of owners and dealers as we work to advance solutions to this recall,” stated Doug Parks, GM executive vice president, Global Product Development, Purchasing and Supply Chain. “Resuming battery module production is a first step and we’ll continue to work aggressively with LG to obtain additional battery supply. In addition, we’re optimistic a new advanced diagnostic software will provide more convenience for our customers.”
Software updates are frequently a dead-end for recall campaigns and often feel like they’re just a way for automakers to buy time before they have to start replacing physical components. GM has already issued a few for the fire-prone Bolt and this new one doesn’t seem all that different from previous editions focused on monitoring for thermal runaway. But it’s supposed to be more comprehensive and “detect specific abnormalities that might indicate a damaged battery in Bolt EVs and EUVs.”
Customers will have to take their vehicles back to the dealership if they’re to have it installed. Meanwhile, “further diagnostics software” will be used to make it so owners can charge their vehicles normally again. The manufacturer currently recommends owners limit their state of charge, not deplete range below 70 miles, and ensure that it’s never left unattended or parked anywhere near something that might get swept up in a surprise fire. But service centers won’t be ready to begin the installation process for another 60 days.
Depending upon when your vehicle was assembled, battery availability could be even further away. GM wants to prioritize battery replacement for Bolts that were “manufactured during specific build timeframes where GM believes battery defects appear to be clustered” and allegedly has a process for notifying those customers before anyone else. While few are likely to be interested in waiting around to see whether or not their vehicle is the next one to catch fire, the new units do come with an extended 8-year/100,000-mile limited warranty and won’t be manufactured in South Korea.
LG battery plants in Holland and Hazel Park, Michigan, have resumed production. In addition, LG is adding capacity to provide more cells to GM. As a result, replacement battery modules will begin shipping to dealers as soon as mid-October.
The root cause of the rare circumstances that could cause a battery fire is two manufacturing defects known as a torn anode and a folded separator, both of which need to be present in the same battery cell.
LG has implemented new manufacturing processes and has worked with GM to review and enhance its quality assurance programs to provide confidence in its batteries moving forward. LG will institute these new processes in other facilities that will provide cells to GM in the future.
A lot of this sounds familiar, leaving us a little pessimistic. But the fires aren’t so common that we would call this a total disaster. General Motors experienced far worse during the ignition switch recall that forced it to take responsibility for 124 deaths. But the Bolt situation calls into question the entire premise of EVs since fires typically occurred overnight while vehicles were charging at people’s homes. This will have lingering consequences for the brand and alternative-energy vehicles on the whole.
But there is a silver lining. With the current batteries taking a beating in the media, the manufacturer can now tout its upcoming Ultium batteries (still built by LG Chem) as not having a history of spontaneous combustion.
[Images: General Motors]
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