General Motors has become the latest automaker to face the need to recall a battery-electric vehicle due to the risk of fires, the move announced this weekend impacting more than 68,000 of its Chevrolet Bolt EVs.
“During our initial investigation we have identified at least five confirmed instances of fire that could be related to the high-voltage battery,” announced Jesse Ortega, the EV’s executive chief engineer, in a video news release.
At least two injuries have occurred due to smoke inhalation. Several other manufacturers, including Tesla, Ford, Audi and China’s NIO, have had to address fire problems on their vehicles during the last several years.
GM has developed a temporary software fix it plans to start distributing this week, but it will negatively impact range by reducing the amount of energy the Bolt’s battery pack can store. A more definitive solution is under development, according to the automaker, but won’t be ready until sometime next year.
“We believe this action, (the temporary software update), will reduce the risk of a vehicle fire, while we continue working around the clock to identify the root cause,” a Chevy spokesperson said, adding that “we intend to deploy a final solution to restore as much battery capacity as possible, after the first of the year.”
The Chevrolet Bolt is GM’s first long-range battery-electric vehicle and is set to anchor an aggressive drive to bring “at least 20” BEVs to market by 2023, according to the automaker. First launched in 2016, it currently is the fourth best-selling EV in the U.S. market, behind three Tesla offerings, the Models 3, Y and X, respectively.
While Bolt does have a relatively good safety record this isn’t its first recall. The automaker previously had to service a problem that could lead to the rear doors opening if a passenger tried to roll down one of the back windows.
This becomes the largest Bolt recall, however and impacts 68,667 of the BEVs. That includes 50,932 sold in the United States.
The bowtie brand is advising Bolt owners to immediately change the charge settings for their vehicles. For 2017 and 2018 model year vehicles that means switching to the “Hilltop Reserve” setting, and to the “Target Charge Level” for 2019 Bolts. Those settings limit the amount of energy that can be stored in the 60-kilowatt packs to about 90% of their maximum capacity, or State-of-Charge, as a result, owners can expect to see a modest reduction in range.
The 2021 version of the Bolt now can deliver up to 259 miles per charge – prior to the change in settings – according to the U.S. EPA. That’s up from 238 miles when Bolt was launched.
For those motorists who cannot make the changes, Chevy is advising them to park their vehicles on the street where the risk of damage in the event of a fire is reduced.
GM said its updated software will be available starting Tuesday, Nov. 17. The Bolt is not capable of using over-the-air updates to install it, however, and owners will have to visit a dealer.
The risk of fire has become something of a problem for automakers as they push into the electrified market. Tesla has experienced a number of events, at least one fatal, and has taken several steps to reduce the risk, including armoring its battery packs to reduce the chance they will be damaged following a crash. Lithium is highly flammable and difficult to extinguish once it ignites.
Other manufacturers who have experienced battery fires include Jaguar, Volkswagen, Audi and China’s NIO. BMW, Ford and Hyundai have all experienced recalls related to EV battery fires in recent weeks.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk has repeatedly asserted that such fires are much rarer than what gas-powered vehicles experience and tried to convince news media to limit coverage. Industry analysts do raise concerns that such incidents could lead cautious consumers to steer clear of battery technology just as more electric vehicles start coming to market.