By on October 8, 2020

Hyundai Motor Co. plans to issue a voluntary recall on Korean-market Kona Electrics as it addresses potential manufacturing defects it’s worried might result in short-circuiting battery cells. Roughly a dozen incidents of fire have been linked to the model, including isolated events in Australia and Canada, and the automaker is particularly keen to address them. Asia has come down hard on battery fires, following a string of high profile examples where battery electric vehicles burnt themselves to the ground.

South Korea’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport has already issued a release confirming Hyundai’s plan to recall 25,564 Kona EVs manufactured between September 2017 and March 2020. Those units will be inspected for defects before being issued obligatory software updates and a battery replacement, according to the government agency.

While the suspect batteries are produced by LG Chem, the company has shrugged its shoulders and claimed its cells aren’t to be blamed. Experiments operated collaboratively with Hyundai failed to replicate the circumstances necessary for a fire, which it believes absolves it of responsibility. However, it has committed itself toward helping the automaker in further testing to determine what’s creating the issue.

Meanwhile, Hyundai has called the recall “a proactive response to a suspected defective production of high-voltage batteries used in the vehicles, which may have contributed to the reported fires,” noting that it’s going to do everything within its power to get to the bottom of this. Based on what we’ve seen from most automakers of late, expect little more than a software update unless a vehicle inspection shows the car is in desperate need of a new battery  and only after Hyundai can tell us what’s actually causing the problem.

Nothing has been said regarding the possibility of recall outside of South Korea. But it seems plausible that the company will have to talk things over with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in the U.S. to determine if any steps need to be taken. It will at least be running an internal investigation to see what actions need to be taken in other markets.

Korea’s recall kicks off on October 16th and it’s kind of a shame to see a smudge like this on the EV’s record. We’re hoping Hyundai gets this sorted out quickly because the Kona Electric is among the better options for those seeking battery-based transportation. That makes it invaluable for the company’s ultimate goal of selling 1 million battery-driven electric vehicles (with help from Kia) in 2025. But it’s desirable range, practical nature, and fun-loving personality won’t be helping it drive EV sales when everyone is worried about it catching fire.

[Images: Hyundai Motor Group]

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5 Comments on “Hyundai Recalling South Korean Kona EVs Over Fire Risk...”

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Cells are low voltage (typically 4.2 V or so), but packs are high voltage. Each cell should have individual protection for a variety of problems (overtemp, overcharge, over pressure, short circuit), as should the pack.

    So it’s likely the issue is with Hyundai’s integration of LG Chem’s cells into the pack, which is a design and mfg issue on their part.

    Either way, it’s a fundamental error that should not be happening decades into the production of lithium ion battery packs. Some cheap Chinese batteries have suffered similar fates, but I have chalked those up to design shortcuts that diligent mfrs won’t make.

    I’m hoping my Ioniq EV isn’t also affected. It shares a lot of DNA with the Kona EV.

    Root-causing a “needle in a haystack” problem like this is really hard to do.

    • 0 avatar
      el scotto

      @SCE to AUX is there software to detect the problems listed in your 1st paragraph? Would Hyundai have to pull the batteries and check for a manufacturing defect or defects? I think you tactfully understated the “needle in a haystack” problem. I believe all vehicle manufactures have them and they truly are buggers to solve.

  • avatar

    “Asia has come down hard on battery fires, following a string of high profile examples where battery electric vehicles burnt themselves to the ground.”

    Does Asia have a government? I presume you mean China, and only if your assertion is factual and not the usual journalistic ruse, like “sources which asked not to be identified”.

    H/K is desperate to fix the Korean market Kona EVs, but the Aussies and Canucks? Well, not so much. Along with Sonatas whose 2.4l engines can seize and sometimes catch fire, and Elantras and Sportages and Tucsons with the flame-ready 1.6/1.8l engines either N/A or turbo, H/K leads the ready-to-broil brigade. One new Tucson almost burnt a house down in a town not far from me because it went off in the middle of the night parked in the driveway. Excellent. They issued the usual boiler-plate “We’ve never heard of this before” denial, relying on the fact we’re out in the boonies a thousand miles away from the Greater Toronto Area centre of the universe, and thus country rubes uninformed on anything — despite the same Facebook feeds, and agreed to a free replacement. How sporting of them! Probably the defective ABS module. That’ll keep them quiet. Probably the defective ABS module. There’s plenty of You tube videos of H/K products at roadside already to grill, and other recalls going back to 2003 models:

    Top flight gear.

  • avatar

    Being good at ICE doesn’t automatically mean you will ace EV’s.

  • avatar

    Maybe that’s what you get for naming a vehicle after a region with live volcanoes.

    I hear their next EV will be named Vesuvius.

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