A battery fire involving a Chevrolet Bolt destroyed the battery-electric vehicle and seriously damaged the home where it had been garaged.
The May 1 fire is the latest in at least seven known fires involving the Chevy battery-electric vehicle since the beginning of 2020, and it occurred shortly after a recall and a subsequent “fix” meant to address the problem. Federal safety regulators advised owners of Bolts built during the 2017 to 2019 model years to park the vehicles outside until they could be repaired.
The General Motors BEV is just one of many electric vehicles to face battery fire problems. Hyundai earlier this year recalled more than 75,000 of its Kona EV models due to a fire risk and there have been numerous fires involving Tesla vehicles, though most have occurred following crashes rupturing a vehicle’s battery pack.
GM issued warning
The latest Chevrolet Bolt fire completely destroyed the vehicle while also doing serious damage to a home in Ashburn, Virginia. Authorities there estimated the conflagration caused a total of about $235,000 in damages.
The exact cause of the fire has yet to be determined but Chevrolet previously warned that Bolt EVs produced in the 2017 through 2019 model years were vulnerable. In a message to customers this past month it said they face “a risk of fire when charged to full, or very close to full, capacity.”
The automaker previously issued a warning and recall in 2020, at the time advising owners to take several steps that would limit the amount of power the Bolt battery pack would store. The downside was a reduction in the vehicle’s range. The impact was relatively minor, cutting off charging when the batteries reached about 95% of their maximum capacity.
The final fix just announced focused specifically on 2019 models, with subsequent updates expected to follow for older versions of the Bolt.
GM said it is aware of the latest incident and is investigating — as are local fire authorities. It is unknown whether the owners in Ashburn had reduced the capacity of their battery pack as GM had previously advised.
Fire risk could raise flag for consumers
While range, cost and charging times are considered key obstacles to widespread consumer acceptance of battery-electric vehicles, experts warn that fires are another big concern.
“There are a lot of people who won’t want to take the risk” on buying an electric vehicle “if they think there’s a chance of an accidental fire,” Joe Phillippi, senior analyst with AutoTrends Consulting, told TheDetroitBureau.com earlier this year.
Lithium-ion batteries are vulnerable to catching fire, though the degree of risk depends on factors such as the precise formulation used. There are more than a dozen main “families” of lithium-ion chemistry.
GM not alone
About 69,000 Bolts were recalled last year, including 51,000 sold in the U.S. The Hyundai Kona EV recall was even larger, involving 75,000 of the vehicles sold worldwide.
Tesla has had several recalls since the original Model S was introduced, including one aimed at providing greater shielding for its batteries to reduce the risk that the pack could be breached in the event of an accident. But that appears to have happened in a recent crash and fire that took the lives of two occupants.
Nonetheless, Tesla CEO Elon Musk has tried to downplay the risk, claiming that the automaker’s products have experienced only about 10% as many fires on a billion-miles-driven basis as do gasoline-powered vehicles.
With EVs expected to rapidly increase in number during the coming decade, experts are hoping to see a shift from lithium-ion to solid-state batteries. That new technology replaces the flammable slurry of chemicals in today’s batteries with an inflammable solid or foam, such as ceramics.