By on November 18, 2020

Hyundai Motor Co. is being sued over a series of battery fires in its electric vehicles in Asia — specifically in relation to the otherwise-enjoyable Kona EV. Though it hardly seems fair to single out Hyundai when General Motors recently issued a recall encompassing 68,677 electric vehicles with batteries manufactured by LG Chem. Interestingly, Hyundai’s 74,000-strong Kona recall (which includes 11,082 units sold to the United States and Canada) uses the same supplier.

EV fires have become a hot topic within the industry, specifically because it runs the risk of slowing adoption rates and makes the affected automaker look wildly inept. Lawsuits don’t help the matter but Hyundai’s more immediate concerns involve proving that LG is the one that screwed up. While it hasn’t pointed any fingers directly at the supplier, it has dropped subtle hints while LG Chem insists its products are not defective. The duo is reportedly collaborating on an internal investigation into the troubled vehicles — 16 of which have burst into flames in North America, Europe, and Asia.

Last week, roughly 200 people lodged a formal request for class-action status against Hyundai. According to Reuters, they’re seeking compensation for the presumed reduction of resale value and other damages stemming from the recall. They also want the manufacturer to replace the entire battery pack (which would be incredibly costly) rather than continuing to issue software updates. One of the lawyers told the outlet they were initially targeting 8 million won ($7,200) per plaintiff but noted they could increase demands as the trial proceeds.

From Reuters:

South Korea’s safety agency is investigating the cause of the Kona fire, and depending on the results, Hyundai and LG Chem could face costs up to $540 million if they have to replace all the affected batteries, analysts reckon.

In a statement to Reuters, Hyundai said the cause of fire is unclear but it suspects that internal damage to batteries may be to blame, adding that it is investigating the case with its supplier and the transport ministry.

Hyundai said it is not considering setting aside money for recalls as it expects its software fix will be able to prevent fires by detecting problems.

“We are constantly monitoring the situation after an update of the [battery management system] and we will continue to try to minimize consumer inconveniences going forward,” Hyundai said.

A LG Chem spokesman said, “We will cooperate with Hyundai Motor and General Motors and sincerely proceed with an investigation to identify the exact cause” of the fire.

This isn’t the first time automakers and battery suppliers have been at odds with each other. Ford and BMW have also recalled vehicles equipped with batteries from Samsung SDI, suggesting the contributing defects were inherent to their design. Unfortunately, the investigations are ongoing and have yet to prove if the batteries were manufactured poorly or that modifications made by automakers are what ultimately made them unstable.

Reuters noted that LG Chem CEO Hak Cheol Shin stated in an interview from last month that its battery systems could have been negatively affected by components made by Hyundai suppliers. But he doesn’t want to accuse anybody until there’s been an investigation into the fires. “As a supplier of a key component of the battery system, we clearly feel responsibility. But until a clear cause would be determined, we can’t come up with measures to address the problems,” he explained.

While the number of EV fires wasn’t terribly out of whack with their gasoline equivalents when this all started, the Kona Electric recall actually has an unpleasantly high number of confirmed fires. The same was true for Chevy’s Bolt. Unfortunately, the default solution has been for automakers to issue software updates that prohibit vehicles from achieving their maximum charge (lowering range). But that doesn’t seem sufficient to give consumers peace of mind, especially when EV fires are particularity explosive, so many of them happened while vehicles were charging overnight, and the issue extends beyond Hyundai and GM.

[Image: Hyundai]

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12 Comments on “Hyundai Being Sued Over Kona Electric Fires, LG Chem on Deck...”


  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    EVs have just been on fire in 2020.

  • avatar
    sgeffe

    “EV fires have been a hot topic…!”

    Good one! :-D

  • avatar
    Imagefont

    I don’t think I could sleep at night with one of these things in my garage. Just one of the many reasons I won’t be buying an electric car any time soon.
    The perils of being an early adopter….
    16 fires out of 70,000 is a massive number, especially when a relatively new car bursts into flames while it’s just sitting there, doing nothing, and damage or abuse is not a factor.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    No word yet on problems with the Ioniq EV; hopefully its relationship to the Kona EV doesn’t include any troublesome DNA.

    Pack design is the usual culprit; not the cells themselves. Good pack design allows for a cell to short without fatal consequence, proper spacing, ventilation, overcharge protection, shipping protection, thermal protection, overpressure protection, and so on.

    Finding the root cause will be tough, so it may require a top-to-bottom design, tolerance, and mfg review.

    They’re not talking about who held responsibility for which aspects of the design. Ownership of the design is likely defined legally, but I’ll bet it falls to Hyundai as the final check on what goes out the door. Maybe LG Chem messed something up, but Hyundai can’t simply trust them without verification of their work.

    Same was true of the crankshaft scenario – Hyundai’s 3rd party mfr made a terrible oversight, but Hyundai never caught it.

    • 0 avatar
      conundrum

      I just went looking to see who this third party manufacturer of defective H/K 2.4l engine crankshafts since 2011 was. I can find nothing mentioned on the net. Maybe Hyundai Mobis the giant parts manufacturer that H/K has spawned made them, but I don’t know. So who is it? Hyundai is so vertically integrated and has all these incestuous chaebols, I can’t see that it was the Johnny Smith (in Korean) Crankshaft Co that made millions of them, happily not cleaning swarf from oil-hole drillings or whatever it was they didn’t get around to doing properly that crapped out bearings from lack of oil.

      There have been at least 13 recalls on my friend’s 2011 Sonata, and the interior plastics seem particularly adept at attracting grime. It’s his personal transport and rarely has more than him in it. There was the flappity doo dah on that engine’s crankshaft up to 2015, when Hyundai admitted fault, then it went quiet for two years, then another recall for the same damn thing in 2017.

      https://www.caranddriver.com/news/a15342058/hyundai-and-kia-recall-1-2-million-cars-for-engine-failures/

      I mean, judged impartially, I’d call this gross incompetence when it’s the same thing all over again. And here you are, brushing it off! Don’t you have a Kona EV? You’re always rabbiting on about electrics and defending Tesla as well. Good luck to you, and now tell us, who is this mystery crankshaft manufacturer?

      Then there’s the fires on newer Elantras and whatever crappy equivalent CUV they make. Different smaller engine from the 2.4. A new one burned the side off a house a couple of towns over from me about a year ago. It happened all across Canada — it featured on national news about a year ago. And now it’s toast the marshmallow times on their EVs as well.

      H/K? You can have ’em.

      South Korean companies have often seemed overly aggressive to me. Samsung and it’s catch-on-fire smartphone, and LG with these possibly dud batteries are two cases that come to mind, beyond the crazy management shuffles Hyundai used to have if some arbitrary sales target wasn’t met. It was nuts, off with their heads time 15 years ago. LG Chem have the additional “characteristic” of bidding on every LiON battery contract that ever comes up at cheapo prices and being UNABLE to deliver when the chips are down. Ask Mercedes and VW, among others. Not a very dependable supplier, but certainly greedy, and perhaps also incompetent as well. They’re also GM’s Ultium battery supplier with souped-up versions of the Bolt sac cells. Always in a rush and maybe overlooking details. We shall see. Wise to stay away from Korean stuff from where I stand.

      • 0 avatar
        Art Vandelay

        People on this forum love them some Hyundai/Kia. I am batting .500 with them. One was solid for 10 years and around 165k miles, one needed a motor before 50k and was right up there with my 1985 Alfa 75 with respect to how frequently it found itself on a lift. Bad enough I won’t be back.

      • 0 avatar
        ToolGuy

        Ah, Samsung. Got a flat-panel Samsung television in ~2007, which had the bad-capacitors problem:

        https://tinyurl.com/y7sklxjw

        Fired up the computer and ordered some name-brand Japanese capacitors from ebay (less than 10 bucks shipped), then fired up the soldering iron and that tv is still going strong (second string) in 2020.

        [Now farther off-track: Took a different television which was headed for the garbage dump and found a troubleshooting chart for it. Took the back off and walked through the troubleshooting chart, found nothing wrong, reassembled it and sent the now-functioning set off with my son. It works now because it has no reason not to work? Mind blown.]

        • 0 avatar
          RHD

          Samsung appliances are not only expensive, they’re troublesome and expensive to repair.
          That company is trying too hard to make too much stuff, and cutting corners on quality and quality control.

        • 0 avatar
          bullnuke

          The capacitors in my LG monitor died similar to ToolGuy as mentioned above. The caps were fat and blown (7 total) and sourced from the country of chabuduo (Land of the Kung Flu). Replaced with caps from the Land of the Rising Sun and it came back to life. That may be part of H/K’s problem – source from “close enough” suppliers, produce “not good enough” products.

      • 0 avatar
        SCE to AUX

        @conundrum:

        The 6 H/K cars I’ve owned or been involved with have been very reliable and cheap to operate, including my son’s 11 Sonata that has been recalled 14 times, I think. His only non-recall event was a bad starter in 100k miles; otherwise no breakdowns, just ordinary maintenance.

        I believe Hyundai’s crankshaft mfr was US-based; the cars in question were built in Alabama. I’m not brushing anything off; I clearly said Hyundai has to own final quality on what they sell.

        I have a 19 Ioniq EV, hence my comments above. The car has been nearly perfect in 2 years so far.

        Lumping all EVs together is like saying I don’t trust gasoline because I saw a VW Beetle on fire once. I’ve had plenty negative to say about Tesla, and I balked twice on buying their product for many, many reasons.

  • avatar
    bd2

    Unless GM made a similar packaging mistake with the Bolt, seems likely that LG Chem will face the brunt of the cost.

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