Some Chevrolet Bolt buyers are seeking buybacks, even as General Motors continues to work on manufacturing updates with its battery supplier LG Chem, according to a report by the Detroit Free Press. The furor comes due to the risk of fires, as nearly a dozen Bolts have caught fire while parked due to faulty batteries.
Buyers demands for the company to repurchase the EVs comes in light of GM’s second recall of the Chevrolet Bolt, one that covered all model years.
The problem stems from the battery cells produced by LG Chem, which have two manufacturing defects: a torn anode tab and folded separator. Together, they greatly increase the risk of fire. The move will cost GM $1.8 billion.
The new modules will come with an 8-year/100,000-mile limited warranty, along with instructions for Bolt owners to limit their vehicle to a 90% state of charge, avoid depleting their battery below approximately 70 miles of remaining range, and park their vehicles outside and refrain from charging overnight until the battery packs can be replaced.
While the problem seems small, only a dozen fires, it represents 0.008% of the 142,000 Bolts built from December 2016 through 2022. That seems to pale in comparison to the 189,500 highway vehicle fires reported in the United States according to Statista.com, which represents 0.066% of the vehicle population, a larger percentage. But EV battery fires take for more water to extinguish than a typical gas-powered car fire, as much as 30,000 gallons, compared to 30 for a ICE-powered car fire. This leads to a greater potential for damage from an EV fire, as it takes far longer to douse.
Of course, GM isn’t the only manufacturer grappling with lithium-ion battery fires as it strives to meet the Biden administration’s request for half of all new car sales to be electric vehicles by 2030.
Other OEMs are fighting fires as well
In March 2021, Hyundai recalled 2019–2020 Hyundai Kona and 2020 Hyundai Ioniq electric vehicles after more than a dozen battery fires were reported. The batteries were manufactured by LG Energy Solutions. The recall covers some 82,000 vehicles, and will cost an estimated $900 million.
Battery manufacturing quality was also the cause of a BMW recall of its 2020 and 2021 plug-in hybrids, a move that affected 4,509 U.S. vehicles, including the 2020-2021 BMW 530e, xDrive30e, Mini Cooper Countryman All4 SE, 2020 BMW i8, 2021 BMW 330e; 2021 BMW 745Le xDrive, and BMW X5 xDrive45e.
This has led the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to communicate with LG to “identify other vehicles that may be impacted.”
OEM buybacks are rare
Of course, GM wouldn’t be the first automaker to buy back automobiles. Volkswagen was forced to buy back Volkswagen and Audi models equipped with diesel engines that contained software that caused them to pollute up to 40 times U.S. standards, while meeting federal mandates during EPA testing The buyback affected approximately 475,000 vehicles in the United States, and cost the company some $30 billion in settlements and penalties.
General Motors hasn’t committed to a buyback program, and it remains to be seen how the recall will affect the sales of future electric vehicles.