By on September 21, 2021

The Chevrolet Bolt has evolved from being General Motors’ superstar EV, radiating optimism for the company’s ambitious electrification strategy, to a public relations nightmare in relatively short order. While sales of the hatchback (and EUV) actually skyrocketed in Q2 of 2021, thanks largely to a diminished production output from the same period in 2020, shoppers are becoming aware of the fire reports and prolonged recall campaign that followed.

Another chapter has been added to that story, with GM now convinced that this will be the conclusion of the dejected tale. On Monday, the manufacturer issued an announcement that batteries for the Bolt had resumed production. But they won’t be coming out of the South Korean facility owned by LG Chem that’s been alleged as ground zero for the relevant defects. GM has instead elected to source the units from Michigan while LG improves quality assurance with the automaker peering over its shoulder, hopeful that customers will someday be able to use their car normally. Sadly, that moment still looks to be several months away. 

“We’re grateful for the patience of owners and dealers as we work to advance solutions to this recall,” stated Doug Parks, GM executive vice president, Global Product Development, Purchasing and Supply Chain. “Resuming battery module production is a first step and we’ll continue to work aggressively with LG to obtain additional battery supply. In addition, we’re optimistic a new advanced diagnostic software will provide more convenience for our customers.”

Software updates are frequently a dead-end for recall campaigns and often feel like they’re just a way for automakers to buy time before they have to start replacing physical components. GM has already issued a few for the fire-prone Bolt and this new one doesn’t seem all that different from previous editions focused on monitoring for thermal runaway. But it’s supposed to be more comprehensive and “detect specific abnormalities that might indicate a damaged battery in Bolt EVs and EUVs.”

Customers will have to take their vehicles back to the dealership if they’re to have it installed. Meanwhile, “further diagnostics software” will be used to make it so owners can charge their vehicles normally again. The manufacturer currently recommends owners limit their state of charge, not deplete range below 70 miles, and ensure that it’s never left unattended or parked anywhere near something that might get swept up in a surprise fire. But service centers won’t be ready to begin the installation process for another 60 days.

Depending upon when your vehicle was assembled, battery availability could be even further away. GM wants to prioritize battery replacement for Bolts that were “manufactured during specific build timeframes where GM believes battery defects appear to be clustered” and allegedly has a process for notifying those customers before anyone else. While few are likely to be interested in waiting around to see whether or not their vehicle is the next one to catch fire, the new units do come with an extended 8-year/100,000-mile limited warranty and won’t be manufactured in South Korea.

From GM:

LG battery plants in Holland and Hazel Park, Michigan, have resumed production. In addition, LG is adding capacity to provide more cells to GM. As a result, replacement battery modules will begin shipping to dealers as soon as mid-October.

The root cause of the rare circumstances that could cause a battery fire is two manufacturing defects known as a torn anode and a folded separator, both of which need to be present in the same battery cell.

LG has implemented new manufacturing processes and has worked with GM to review and enhance its quality assurance programs to provide confidence in its batteries moving forward. LG will institute these new processes in other facilities that will provide cells to GM in the future.

A lot of this sounds familiar, leaving us a little pessimistic. But the fires aren’t so common that we would call this a total disaster. General Motors experienced far worse during the ignition switch recall that forced it to take responsibility for 124 deaths. But the Bolt situation calls into question the entire premise of EVs since fires typically occurred overnight while vehicles were charging at people’s homes. This will have lingering consequences for the brand and alternative-energy vehicles on the whole.

But there is a silver lining. With the current batteries taking a beating in the media, the manufacturer can now tout its upcoming Ultium batteries (still built by LG Chem) as not having a history of spontaneous combustion.

[Images: General Motors]

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32 Comments on “Chevy Bolt Fire Fix Allegedly Finalized...”


  • avatar
    FAHRVERGNUGEN

    Chevy Cobolt. Less fueling, tastes grate.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    Looking forward to my new battery, although I guess it will be a while because my Bolt wasn’t included in the original recall population.

    Fortunately for me the GM guidance is consistent with the way we were using the car already. It really hasn’t changed the utility of the car at all in our usage.

  • avatar
    redgolf

    Will swap my 2020 Equinox with only 13k one owner miles even for a Bolt, any takers? Parked in the garage since new, sleep well at night! ;-)

  • avatar
    jmo2

    “ But the Bolt situation calls into question the entire premise of EVs since fires typically occurred overnight while vehicles were charging at people’s homes. ”

    OK but ICE cars catch fire in garages all the time:

    “ Kia, Hyundai recall more than 700,000 vehicles for potential fire risk in anti-lock brake system… that caught fire while parked and off.”

    “ BMW of North America has issued two recalls covering about one million vehicles that contain parts implicated in car fires.

    The recalls span six years of production and include numerous models of the luxury vehicles, but one of the recalls involves a valve heater that can cause fires in vehicles that are not in operation”

    And on and on.

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      This. If anything, I’m encouraged by the fact that GM seems to be pretty open about this, as opposed to the shenanigans they pulled with the ignition switch. Maybe they’re learning?

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        There’s a business case for how GM is reacting to this – they have committed to “going EV,” so they damn well better be on top of this issue because their future business depends on it.

  • avatar
    Socrates77

    Funny how all of the sudden they found a fix after their stock was falling. That’s always the case with GM they always talk big when their stock is down. Only idiots would invest in GM at this point.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Most of the fault lies with LG Chem who produces the battery. Some of the fault lies with GM, who didn’t require enough checks to catch the problem.

      Maybe, just maybe, the fix was found because GM doesn’t want to see its customers’ cars incinerate?

      As for your stock price fixation, GM’s choice to replace every battery pack is the most expensive path of all, short of buying back the cars. Fixing cars is a good thing for the company, the customer, and the stock price. What’s the problem with that?

  • avatar
    jmo2

    “ The traffic safety agency said owners should park CR-Vs from those model years outside until the recall is performed to avoid any property damage from a fire. A fire could start even when the ignition is off and the CR-V is parked.”

    It happens so often it’s hardly even newsworthy. Yet for Matt it – calls into question the entire premise of EVs

    Eye roll…

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    “But the Bolt situation calls into question the entire premise of EVs since fires typically occurred overnight while vehicles were charging at people’s homes.”

    Bolts on fire is probably the least concerning of the many reasons EV’s premise is flawed. If this was the only significant lingering issue, EV would command 20% of USDM market share by now.

    On a different note, GM should have learned from the Volt and dismissed any idea of mainstream production of these things. Its not as if the dealers were asking for more lot poison, a fleet only EV van would have been much better suited to iron out the kinks (oh niche items like $100K Hummers).

    • 0 avatar
      bullnuke

      28- Correct. The EV focus should be on delivery van fleets where the technology can mature and prove itself. Or, use in taxi fleets. Let these users be the Beta-Testers to prove reliability, usability, and safety.

      • 0 avatar
        mcs

        @bullnuike: No, incorrect. EVs are proven technology. They’re fine for local trips and long-distance. Tesla alone has over a million cars on the road.

        As far as the 20% number, that’s totally made up. There’s no reasoning behind that number. In terms of production alone, the EV makers aren’t keeping up with demand and are busy building new factories to keep up. In California they’ve hit 9% of total sales in the first quarter.

        • 0 avatar
          bullnuke

          Tesla is successful because it is the iPhone of automobiles – gotta have it to be seen with it and I can afford to be tethered to the manufacturer for updates/apps/service. Cars for folks of lesser means need an Android of autos – no need for over-the-air updates or extras but just an inexpensive, simple mode of transportation. Utilizing EV tech for delivery vehicles/public transportation/similar usage is a better wedge of the technology that will lead to a more affordable Android of cars.

          • 0 avatar
            mcs

            @bullnuke: People buy Teslas for the performance and charging network they have. For me, I want a sedan and not a CUV. Not many choices. There’s the Taycan and the EQS. Maybe we’ll have more choices from Mercedes soon. I don’t like Teslas quality issues or, even worse, the way they treat 3rd party service. Still, their battery tech, motor tech, and charging network is the best, so I might end up with one. Nothing to do with what people see me in. I really don’t care.

            “EV tech for delivery vehicles/transportation/similar usage is a better wedge of the technology that will lead to a more affordable Android of cars.”

            Again, we’re past that stage. It sounds like you don’t own an EV. I do and have been driving one for 7 years now. They’re fine. Lots of advantages. The sales of EVs are growing and some of the manufacturers, including Tesla, have backlogs of orders. Look at the sales numbers. To suddenly pull back a product with increasing sales makes no sense. EVs were 9% of the market in California first quarter. In Norway, BEVs are 64.7% of the market.

            https://images.hgmsites.net/hug/veloz-quarterly-ev-sales-through-2021-q2–august-2021_100801580_h.jpg

            The technology that will lead to lower-cost EVs is certainly coming. CATL has a hybrid lithium-ion/sodium-ion pack that I think will be in mass production 2023. Toyota, BMW, and Ford will be testing solid-state batteries on the road in 2022. Actually, Toyota is already road testing a vehicle.

            Also, last I checked, Android had plenty of OTA updates. They aren’t a bad thing.

  • avatar
    Kendahl

    So the defective batteries have been tracked to a single LG factory. Is it a flawed manufacturing procedure that makes it easy to turn out a bad battery or is it just poorly trained or motivated workers?

    Are Bolts more or less likely to catch fire than ICE vehicles? If so, GM should be shouting this to the skies. “It’s safer to park a Bolt in your garage than any ICE!!!!” Musk does so when anyone condemns Tesla on the basis of a battery fire.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Flawed manufacturing processes; you never want to rely on human inspectors.

      -Deming

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      The problem is that they catch fire at different times and places. ICEs probably present more overall fire risk bt this recall can still be totally warranted.

      ICE vehicles tend to catch fire while running, and especially after hard driving, which usually means they are not in garages or outside houses where people are sleeping. These fires are usually happening right after a full charge, which means they are happening inside or directly outside houses in the middle of the night.

  • avatar
    Master Baiter

    “Are Bolts more or less likely to catch fire than ICE vehicles?”

    I can’t imagine they would be doing a recall and writing off billions of dollars if the situation were no worse than GM’s ICE vehicles.

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      Yeah, GM does have a thing for producing flaming ICE vehicles.

      https://gmauthority.com/blog/2019/11/gm-recalls-2019-2020-chevrolet-silverado-gmc-sierra-over-fire-risk/

      https://www.caranddriver.com/news/a30286700/gm-recall-pickups-stalling-fires-antilock-brakes/

      https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/cars/2014/01/10/chevrolet-silverado-gmc-sierra-fire-recall/4424529/

      • 0 avatar
        rudiger

        Well, there was the Fiero. I’m not sure if the Vega caught fire; it was more of an overheating issue due to a poorly engineered engine and cooling system.

        But the most famous flaming car wasn’t a GM product, it was the Ford Pinto.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    “Sadly, that moment still looks to be several months away.”

    It took years to produce 70k battery packs. They won’t all be replaced in several months.

    • 0 avatar
      dwford

      Don’t worry, they’ve added production. So now they can make the batteries they couldn’t make before even faster than before.

      It’s a sad day when GM is the quality control supervisor for another company. Kinda like having North Korea on the UN human rights commission.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    “But the Bolt situation calls into question the entire premise of EVs since fires typically occurred overnight while vehicles were charging at people’s homes. This will have lingering consequences for the brand and alternative-energy vehicles on the whole.”

    Only for you, Matt.

    After 40 years of servicing my own ICEs from top to bottom, I’m calling into question the whole premise of ICEs. I’m pretty tired of them – the grease, oil, and fumes, countless wear items, constant maintenance, the hazards of moving parts, leaks, cold weather starting, check engine lights, emission controls, and the hazards of explosive fuel everywhere.

  • avatar

    the car is toast and so is General Motors. gross incompetence by Reuss and Barra.

  • avatar

    “upcoming Ultium batteries (still built by LG Chem) as not having a history of spontaneous combustion.”

    Ha, it is just a matter of time. Why GM cannot build them in house? Tesla does its, why industrial giants like GM and Ford cannot do the same? Koreans are renown for quality issues. I would not bet the farm on expectations of defect free products from Korean companies. Korea != Japan.

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      With Korea, it depends on the company. Actually, that applies to every country. I’m not a fan of LG. I had one of their microwaves that tried twice to ignite with scorched internal wires, Then again, not far away is the Bosch dishwasher that tried to do the same thing. Now remind me, what country is Takata from? How about JATCO, maker of Nissans CVTs? What does that “J” stand for?

  • avatar
    BSttac

    Guarantee GM does what GM does and go as cheap as possible with the fix. Meaning when they are out of the news cycle and can deny the warranty claims on the 2020, 2021 models no one will care. Never forget the ignition switch scandal and then the audacity to try to get the payout dismissed in bankruptcy. Never buy GM. Real simple

  • avatar
    dwford

    So with GM prioritizing the most at risk cars ( I am assuming the 2017-2019 cars), it could be months before the 2020 Bolt I was about to buy right before the stop sale gets fixed. Super. Seems like I would need a bigger discount to keep waiting

  • avatar
    Imagefont

    I just drove past a Jeep Wrangler Unlimited, brand new, burned down to the axles. Even the fire were completely burned away, I’ve never seen a car so completely consumed by fire. It was a 20 minute delay on the freeway.
    All this BS about ICE cars being just as fire prone as EV’s is a red herring and false equivalence. ICE vehicles burn because they’ve been damaged or they’re very old and neglected. That description covers the vast majority of ICE vehicles that catch fire. EV’s burn because they’re new, undamaged and being used and charged as prescribed by the manufacturer. It’s due to hidden defects and risk associated with a large, agreeeivy charged battery pack of uncertain quality. Despite the misdirection, ICE vehicles are not prone to catching fire for no reason, but EV’s are.

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