If you’ve been following the Chevrolet Bolt, then you know it’s gone from a competitive front-motor, five-door all-electric subcompact to a tinderbox on wheels. Battery issues have resulted in numerous recalls while the associated fire risk is gradually making it the spiritual successor to the Ford Pinto flambé edition. Though, in fairness, the Bolt issue is nowhere near as devastating as those vintage Ford fires and pales in comparison to the General Motors’ own faulty ignition switch fiasco that left over 100 people dead.
It’s still leaving a bad impression, however, and GM’s latest decision (prudent as it might be) won’t be helping. As part of the recall campaign, the manufacturer has advised owners not to park the vehicle inside garages or close to buildings. It also has a charging protocol for customers to use to help minimize its risk of spontaneous combustion. Following yet another fire incident, GM has updated those recommendations and now advises drivers to park the Bolt at least 50 feet away from all other vehicles.
The company has already recalled literally every Chevrolet Bolt model sold (nearly 150,000 units) and has even done buybacks with owners that have addressed their outrage with the factory. As it turns out, nobody buying an electric automobile wants one that might end up burning down their home in the middle of the night.
Addressing the problem is likely going to cost GM in excess of $2 billion (USD) in addition to whatever trust it lost with the public. But it’s been trying to throw the spotlight onto battery supplier LG Chem, which is being blamed for the defects and had similar issues with cells installed into the similarly fire-prone Hyundai Kona Electric.
This is a shame because the Kona and Bolt were two of the first cars that left your author feeling like there might be a real future for electrification. While basic, both vehicles were reasonably fun to drive and made excellent urban runabouts for people who don’t cover a lot of ground or need an abundance of interior space. They also felt like mainstream economy vehicles, rather than a trendy accessory for the suckers kind of people who collect limited-edition sneakers and wait in line for the next iPhone.
While fire incidents are quite rare — a point GM likes to make whenever possible — they’ve continued to happen and are drawing plenty of unwanted attention to electric automobiles in general and the Bolt in particular. NHTSA documents stipulate that the Chevys suffer from not one but two defects, allegedly stemming from the South Korean LG facility where the batteries are constructed.
The most recent Bolt fire took place in a residential area in Cherokee County, Georgia. No injuries have been reported.
According to Bloomberg, the manufacturer has decided to upgrade safety protocols to include a recommendation that owners do not park their cars within 50 feet of another automobile. While that means more exercise when going to the store, which everyone could probably use, it’s not helping improve the ownership experience.
The new advice is likely to rankle owners who are already limiting their use of the Bolt to avoid overheating the battery and risking a fire. The parking guidance — recommending a distance of 50 feet from other parked cars — is especially difficult for owners in urban areas. GM has confirmed 10 fires. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said the agency has found 13 fires in Bolts, but the company hasn’t confirmed the additional three are part of the current recall issue.
The Bolt normally can go 259 miles on a charge, but that has been limited by GM’s guidance to avoid a fire. The automaker told Bolt owners to limit the charge to 90 [percent], plug in more frequently and avoid depleting the battery to below about 70 miles of remaining range. They’re also advised to park their vehicles outside immediately after charging and not leave them charging indoors overnight.
With owners just wanting a hassle-free experience, this is a lot to ask. However, when the alternative is losing the vehicle and a portion of your home to an unexpected fire, it’s advice worth heeding.
[Image: General Motors]
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