General Motors has stopped making Chevy Bolts and laid off workers at its factory in Orion Township, Michigan. According to the Detroit Free Press, GM will keep that plant idle and defer the start of repairs on the nearly 141,000 Chevrolet Bolts EVs and EUVs manufactured so far until it is confident LG Energy Solution can make a defect-free EV battery that does not pose a potential fire risk.
Right now, the company does not have the requisite level of confidence to restart production or begin repairing the cars it has recalled. Owners with questions can get more information at www.chevy.com/boltevrecall or they can call the Chevrolet EV Concierge at 833-EVCHEVY. That service is available 8 am to midnight Monday through Friday and from noon to 9 pm on weekends.
GM spokesperson Dan Flores says both companies have “hundreds of people” working around the clock, seven days a week, to find the cause of the defective battery modules. “If we took the battery stock that’s in the field right now or at a warehouse, we’re not confident that it is defect-free. Because we are not confident that LG has the capability to build defect-free products, we’ve put the repairs on hold and we are not building new Bolts. We’re not going to start recall repairs or start building new Bolts until we’re confident LG will build defect-free products.”
LG builds the battery cells at its factory in Holland, Michigan. GM engineers are studying LG’s manufacturing process there as well as tearing down battery packs, inspecting cells, and even monitoring how LG packs the cells into the modules and assembles those modules into battery packs in an effort to find the cause of the defects, Flores says. “It’s in everybody’s best interest if we speed the repairs along as best as we can. Both LG and GM understand the significance in what we’re doing here and we’re committed to doing the right thing for our customers.”
Uncovering A Manufacturing Defect
As we reported last week, the issue appears to be a torn anode tab and a folded separator in the modules, and Flores confirms that diagnosis. At the present time, the companies do not know what is causing those defects. They also don’t know if the defects are in every Bolt or just a few. GM is working to develop a software technology that will enable a service technician to identify whether a specific module is defective and just replace that defective module. “But short of that, we’re going to replace all the five modules in all the vehicles,” Flores said.
Flores could not provide a specific timeline on how long Bolt owners might have to wait for a repair at a dealership, saying repairs will not begin until GM is confident LG is manufacturing batteries that are defect free. But he indicated GM has assigned people to work with LG’s production team to help increase “their capability to build battery packs, because we’re going to need a lot and it will take time to build up inventory, to build it, ship it and build product for Orion.” GM will provide Bolt owners with an eight year, 100,000 mile warranty on the new battery modules once repairs are completed.
There is going to be some serious economic pain for LG as a result of this. GM previously expected its first recall to cost $800,000. That recall applied only to certain model years. But now that the recall effects every Bolt ever made, including the all new Bolt EUV, the price tag has ballooned to $1.8 billion. “We are not publicly talking about that issue,” Flores says. “Those discussions are being handled by the appropriate leaders at both companies.”
Asked when production would resume at the Orion factory, Flores said, “Are we going to resume production at Orion two weeks from Monday? We certainly hope so, but we’re not at that point to proclaim that. We have an assembly plant idled because our supplier is not building a defect-free product so there is a lot of pressure to work quickly, but to get it right.”
Last week, GM CEO Mary Barra told Bloomberg Television that GM will continue its relationship with LG, noting the battery defects are limited to the Bolt and that its upcoming electric cars such as the Cadillac Lyriq and Hummer will be built on the new Ultium battery platform, jointly developed with LG Energy Solution.
2017 Bolt Burns After Recall Repairs
On Saturday, a Reddit user posted a photo of his 2017 Chevy Bolt that was consumed by fire overnight. The car had recently been repaired under the existing recall procedure. He reports the car had about 34 miles of range when he parked it the night before.
GM is cautioning drivers not to charge their cars to more than 90% SOC and not to let their range fall below 70 miles. It recommends lots of small charging sessions rather than occasional full charging events. In other words, the ownership experience is now quite similar to what drivers of first generation Nissan LEAFs are used to.
Scottg96 posted a noteworthy comment in the the Reddit thread: “What’s confusing to me is why these defects only appear to have come to light in the past ~12 months. The car has been in customers’ hands since December 2016, and 3.5-4 years later we get the first occurrences of this defect? I’m not implying a conspiracy or anything like that, I’m just confused how a defect like this can be inactive for that long and then have a bunch of examples pop up rapidly around the country.”
That’s an excellent question, which leads to yet another excellent question. Did whatever was done to the car to “fix” it during the recall repair process contribute to this fire? That’s one we are not likely to get an answer to any time soon.
Here’s an editorial note. The photo above could have been used as the featured image to this story. Instead, I choose to use a generic picture of a Chevy Bolt that is not in flames. The issue is serious but the incidence of fires is still quite low. I didn’t want to sensationalize things and, to be scrupulously fair, a gasoline powered car that burns looks a lot like an electric car that burns once the flames are extinguished. There are many, many more gasoline fires and they hardly ever get any attention from the press.
Don’t think for a minute that the forces of darkness — i.e. Big Oil — aren’t pushing this news to every media outlet they can think of to scare people away from driving an electric car. The level of ignorance and stupidity out there is stunning. Just the other day, I overheard two men guffawing over the fact that some people are dumb enough to actually drive electric cars. “What happens when the power goes out?” they asked. Being famous for not knowing when to keep my mouth shut, I interjected, “What do you think happens to all those gas pumps when the power goes out?” I got vacant stares in response.
LG and GM will solve this problem but probably not as quickly as many of us would like. Battery fires are definitely a speed bump on the road to the EV future. Let’s hope they don’t become a detour instead.