Hyundai Recalling LG Batteries, Who's to Blame?

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
hyundai recalling lg batteries who s to blame

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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  • SCE to AUX SCE to AUX on Feb 24, 2021

    "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.

  • SCE to AUX SCE to AUX on Feb 24, 2021

    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.

  • Sayahh Is it 1974 or 1794? The article is inconsistent.
  • Laura I just buy a Hyndai Elantra SEL, and My car started to have issues with the AC dont work the air sometimes is really hot and later cold and also I heard a noice in the engine so I went to the dealer for the first service and explain what was hapenning to the AC they told me that the car was getting hot because the vent is not working I didnt know that the car was getting hot because it doesnt show nothing no sign no beep nothing I was surprise and also I notice that it needed engine oil, I think that something is wrong with this car because is a model 23 and I just got it on April only 5 months use. is this normal ? Also my daughter bought the same model and she went for a trip and the car also got hot and it didnt show up in the system she called them and they said to take the car to the dealer for a check up I think that if the cars are new they shouldnt be having this problems.
  • JamesGarfield What charging network does the Polestar use?
  • JamesGarfield Re: Getting away from union plantsAbout a dozen years or so ago, Caterpillar built a huge new engine plant, just down the road here in Seguin TX. Story has it, Caterpillar came to Seguin City council in advance, and told them their plans. Then they asked for no advanced publicity from Seguin, until announcement day. This new plant was gonna be a non-union replacement for a couple of union plants in IL and SC, and Cat didn't want to stir up union problems until the plan was set. They told Seguin, If you about blab this in advance, we'll walk. Well, Seguin kept quiet as instructed, and the plan went through, with all the usual expected tax abatements given.Plant construction began, but the Caterpillar name was conspicuously absent from anywhere on the site. Instead, the plant was described as being a collective of various contractors and suppliers for Caterpillar. Which in fact, it was. Then comes the day, with the big new plant fully operationa!, that Caterpillar comes in and announces, Hey, Yeah it's our plant, and the Caterpillar name boldly goes up on the front. All you contractor folks, welcome aboard, you're now Caterpillar employees. Then, Cat turns and announces they are closing those two union plants immediately, and will be transporting all the heavy manufacturing equipment to Seguin. None of the union workers, just the equipment. And today, the Caterpillar plant sits out there, humming away happily, making engines for the industry and good paying jobs for us. I'd call that a winner.
  • Stuki Moi What Subaru taketh away in costs, dealers will no doubt add right back in adjustments.... Fat chance Subaru will offer a sufficient supply of them.