By on February 24, 2021

Hyundai will be recalling 82,000 electric vehicles sold around the world due to a presumed fire risk and its getting a little ugly, though that’s nothing new for the industry. Reports of the brand’s Kona Electric going up in flames (often while charging) started springing up in 2019, causing the manufacturer to call them back for a software update that was supposed to remedy the issue. But South Korean officials decided more needed to be done after one of the fixed vehicles caught fire in January. An investigation was launched and now Hyundai is on the hook for a 1 trillion won ($900 million USD) recall — including the nearly 40 billion won was spent on the initial software solution.

But how much of the blame does Hyundai really deserve when other manufacturers are having similar issues with their electric cars? Couldn’t the supplier be somewhat responsible? Absolutely not, explains battery supplier LG Chem.

You might recall LG Chem from the vicious lawsuit it just wrapped up with rival SK Innovation. It had accused the company of stealing industrial secrets and convinced the court to enact a delayed ban on SK batteries imported into the United States. While a clever way to secure an advantage on the market, it also showcased how vicious and political these battery battles could get.

There could be a smack of that going on here, too. LG has made it abundantly clear that Hyundai’s battery problems are the result of it failing to properly apply its suggestions when setting up vehicles’ charging and battery management systems. While investigators from South Korea’s transport ministry have reported seeing problems (defects) with cells manufactured at LG Energy’s China factory, the supplier seems to be avoiding much of the blame.

It maintains that this is a Hyundai problem and the automaker hasn’t done much to defend itself. The skeptic inside is screaming that this has something to do with South Korea not wanting to kill what’s about to become a golden goose. Battery demand is up and governments around the world are doing their utmost to pitch it up even higher, so there’s little for the country to gain by making two of its largest conglomerates look bad when one will suffice. We can only speculate on this, however, as the transport ministry’s investigation is ongoing.

According to Reuters, Hyundai will be footing the entire 1 trillion won bill. But it has since clarified that there have been discussions on sharing the financial impact with LG. But this doesn’t appear to be common knowledge or finalized.

The recall applies to nearly 76,000 Kona EVs built between 2018 and 2020, a smattering of Ioniq EVs and a few busses have also been included. Hyundai is recommending all owners limit battery charging to 90 percent of the total capacity until after the battery has been replaced.

[Image: Hyundai]

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10 Comments on “Hyundai Recalling LG Batteries, Who’s to Blame?...”


  • avatar
    Rick T.

    Hardware!
    Software!
    Hardware!
    Software!

  • avatar
    conundrum

    In my view, H/K is merely continuing the tradition of fires that many have experienced with the 2.4l Swarf Edition engine (beyond the ones that seize up without catching fire after running their bearings), and the smaller engine 1.8/2.0 liter in smaller CUVs/Elantras and its attached electronics. The mainstream media chasing the story in Canada are so disorganized technically that they don’t seem to realize that two engine families are involved with different causes of fires (the smaller engined ones usually go up just sitting in people’s driveways) — it’s all just H/K to them, with lovely videos of vehicles going up in smoke and big flames for clicks.

    Fifteen years ago, the rapacious management in South Korea used to hire and fire its US chief execs every year when they didn’t meet ridiculous sales “targets”. After the 2008 world wide banker/stockbrocker schemozzle, they appeared to calm down on the being mean and nasty routine with their overseas management. I have personally remained skeptical of their basic motives ever since though, always getting the impression that employees are basically whipped to produce. Their warranty denials (even for my friend in the trade) are clueless and unlikely to win new customers or satisfy existing ones. Their denial of responsibility for engine failures are rife in Canada.

    I’d avoid their stuff like the plague, because I cannot rid myself of the impression that they cut corners where they think it won’t be noticed. They’re always in a rush to cover every little niche in the market, ready or not, trying to keep up with Toyota on fuel cells for example, scared of losing even one sale intead of perfecting what they are currently purveying. And they seem to have to be forced to the wall to admit any culpability for poor product on their part. I don’t need that attitude or the products the company produces.

    That’s my personal view. Yours may differ, and good luck to you.

    • 0 avatar
      Mackie

      I’m inclined to agree. I sometimes wonder how they manage to launch so many new products, in nearly every segment, so quickly.

    • 0 avatar
      redapple

      Conundrum>
      I m with you. Hard NO to HK
      – wonkie driving dynamics.
      – 5 year old car interiors that look 10 years old.
      – Plastics that dissolve in the FLA sun.
      – Save $2000 on the front end over a Toyota. But Loose $5000 more on the backend selling. So, costs more than a Toyota for an inferior vehicle.
      – I could go one, but I m widely regarded as the HK hater here so I ll bail.

      • 0 avatar
        Art Vandelay

        Cue the “I have owned one for 3 weeks and 47 miles and have had no trouble” and the “But muh Tellyouriiiide” crowd.

      • 0 avatar
        bd2

        If had “wonkie driving dynamics” – C/D wouldn’t have 16 H/K/G models on their Editors’ Choice list (more than Toyota or Honda).

        Every Genesis model is on the recommendation list, don’t think any Lexus or Acura models made the cut.

        CR gives Kia a 75 for its overall road test score, the same as for Lexus (Genesis gets an 82); Hyundai gets a 74, one better than Toyota.

        As for “dissolving plastics” – it’s automakers like Toyota/Lexus and Honda/Acura which have had class action lawsuits over cracking dashboards, and for Toyota/Lexus – melting dashes.

        • 0 avatar
          Art Vandelay

          I don’t think their “dissolving plastics” were much better or worse than anyone elses. The “dissolving crankshaft main bearings” were pretty offputting though (I’ll take the class actions you mention over that one). IMHO, it was no better or worse than others with respect to driving and materials, but the inability of the motor to outlast even modern BMW V8’s definitely turned me off to them. But I hear Jesus himself owns a Teluride…

    • 0 avatar
      bd2

      GM recalls Bolt due to fire risk from batteries.

      Tesla Home batteries recalled due to fire risk, and Tesla has been mum about the fire risk to certain models/specs.

      Common denominator?

      LG Chem is the battery supplier.

      Furthermore,the Kia e-Niro uses basically the same hybrid system as in the Kona hybrid with no issues.

      The battery supplier for the e-Niro? SK Innovation.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    “a smattering of Ioniq EVs”

    To quote Dick Scobee: “Uh-oh”.

    I have been suspicious about the absence of the Ioniq EV from articles about this. Fortunately, I nearly always charge mine to ~80%, and only go to 100% if I’m about to drive it some distance. It has performed quite well given its small capacity. Checking separately, I think this recall covers my car.

    If I get a new battery, hopefully it doesn’t come with any performance compromises. Heck, maybe I’ll even keep the thing once the lease is up.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Back when I was designing explosion-proof equipment that went into hazardous locations, I had a manager who stated that all we needed to do was use all UL- or CE-listed parts and we’d be OK. To that ridiculous comment, I replied “you could build a bomb out of UL-listed parts.”

    With rechargeable batteries, you have the cells and the packs they go into. The cells are designed with simple protection devices inside them to guard against over pressure or over temperature conditions. Activation of these devices (like a pressure disk) will render the cell useless, but it won’t cause a fire unless other aggravating events are present.

    The pack design is meant to provide mechanical packaging, charging capability, overcharge protection, cell balancing, cooling, heating, ventilation, and crash protection. There should be a distinct line of ownership between the cell mfr and the car mfr, even if they collaborate on the pack design.

    Battery knockoffs – for cell phones, laptops, etc – use someone else’s cell and/or pack design, and that’s where corners can be cut on safety or performance. We’ve all used them, but there is a bit more risk in doing so.

    LG Chem may very well be correct here. They provide a product that can go badly wrong if misused – think of a gun and the gun owner.

    On the other hand, if Hyundai can prove that the LG Chem cell can’t withstand conditions they mutually agreed upon, then LG Chem has a dog in this fight.

    As the pack designer, I would normally blame Hyundai for this issue. But the fact that Bolts have burned up with LG Chem cells gives me pause.

    I hope Hyundai truly understands the root cause. It’s exceptionally difficult to root cause a problem that occurs once or twice in 80k units, especially when the evidence is burned up.

    The political/business implications of this are pretty big for both parties, so we may never know what backroom fights are taking place.

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