The Chevrolet Bolt is Becoming Embarrassing for GM

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

If you’ve been following the Chevrolet Bolt, then you know it’s gone from a competitive front-motor, five-door all-electric subcompact to a tinderbox on wheels. Battery issues have resulted in numerous recalls while the associated fire risk is gradually making it the spiritual successor to the Ford Pinto flambé edition. Though, in fairness, the Bolt issue is nowhere near as devastating as those vintage Ford fires and pales in comparison to the General Motors’ own faulty ignition switch fiasco that left over 100 people dead.

It’s still leaving a bad impression, however, and GM’s latest decision (prudent as it might be) won’t be helping. As part of the recall campaign, the manufacturer has advised owners not to park the vehicle inside garages or close to buildings. It also has a charging protocol for customers to use to help minimize its risk of spontaneous combustion. Following yet another fire incident, GM has updated those recommendations and now advises drivers to park the Bolt at least 50 feet away from all other vehicles.

The company has already recalled literally every Chevrolet Bolt model sold (nearly 150,000 units) and has even done buybacks with owners that have addressed their outrage with the factory. As it turns out, nobody buying an electric automobile wants one that might end up burning down their home in the middle of the night.

Addressing the problem is likely going to cost GM in excess of $2 billion (USD) in addition to whatever trust it lost with the public. But it’s been trying to throw the spotlight onto battery supplier LG Chem, which is being blamed for the defects and had similar issues with cells installed into the similarly fire-prone Hyundai Kona Electric.

This is a shame because the Kona and Bolt were two of the first cars that left your author feeling like there might be a real future for electrification. While basic, both vehicles were reasonably fun to drive and made excellent urban runabouts for people who don’t cover a lot of ground or need an abundance of interior space. They also felt like mainstream economy vehicles, rather than a trendy accessory for the suckers kind of people who collect limited-edition sneakers and wait in line for the next iPhone.

While fire incidents are quite rare — a point GM likes to make whenever possible — they’ve continued to happen and are drawing plenty of unwanted attention to electric automobiles in general and the Bolt in particular. NHTSA documents stipulate that the Chevys suffer from not one but two defects, allegedly stemming from the South Korean LG facility where the batteries are constructed.

The most recent Bolt fire took place in a residential area in Cherokee County, Georgia. No injuries have been reported.

According to Bloomberg, the manufacturer has decided to upgrade safety protocols to include a recommendation that owners do not park their cars within 50 feet of another automobile. While that means more exercise when going to the store, which everyone could probably use, it’s not helping improve the ownership experience.

From Bloomberg:

The new advice is likely to rankle owners who are already limiting their use of the Bolt to avoid overheating the battery and risking a fire. The parking guidance — recommending a distance of 50 feet from other parked cars — is especially difficult for owners in urban areas. GM has confirmed 10 fires. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said the agency has found 13 fires in Bolts, but the company hasn’t confirmed the additional three are part of the current recall issue.

The Bolt normally can go 259 miles on a charge, but that has been limited by GM’s guidance to avoid a fire. The automaker told Bolt owners to limit the charge to 90 [percent], plug in more frequently and avoid depleting the battery to below about 70 miles of remaining range. They’re also advised to park their vehicles outside immediately after charging and not leave them charging indoors overnight.

With owners just wanting a hassle-free experience, this is a lot to ask. However, when the alternative is losing the vehicle and a portion of your home to an unexpected fire, it’s advice worth heeding.

[Image: General Motors]

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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  • Jonathan IMO the hatchback sedans like the Audi A5 Sportback, the Kia Stinger, and the already gone Buick Sportback are the answer to SUVs. The A5 and the AWD version of the Stinger being the better overall option IMO. I drive the A5, and love the depth and size of the trunk space as well as the low lift over. I've yet to find anything I need to carry that I can't, although I admit I don't carry things like drywall, building materials, etc. However, add in the fun to drive handling characteristics, there's almost no SUV that compares.
  • C-b65792653 I'm starting to wonder about Elon....again!!I see a parallel with Henry Ford who was the wealthiest industrialist at one time. Henry went off on a tangent with the peace ship for WWI, Ford TriMotor, invasive social engineering, etc. Once the economy went bad, the focus fell back to cars. Elon became one of the wealthiest industrialist in the 21st century. Then he went off with the space venture, boring holes in the ground venture, "X" (formerly Twitter), etc, etc, etc. Once Tesla hit a plateau and he realized his EVs were a commodity, he too is focused on his primary money making machine. Yet, I feel Elon is over reacting. Down sizing is the nature of the beast in the auto industry; you can't get around that. But hacking the Super Charger division is like cutting off your own leg. IIRC, GM and Ford were scheduled to sign on to the exclusive Tesla charging format. That would have doubled or tripled his charging opportunity. I wonder what those at the Renaissance Center and the Glass House are thinking now. As alluded to, there's blood in the water and other charging companies will fill the void. I believe other nations have standardized EV charging (EU & China). Elon had the chance to have his charging system as the default in North America. Now, he's dropped the ball. He's lost considerable influence on what the standardized format will eventually be. Tremendous opportunity lost. 🚗🚗🚗
  • Tassos I never used winter tires, and the last two decades I am driving almost only rear wheel drive cars, half of them in MI. I always bought all season tires for them, but the diff between touring and non touring flavors never came up. Does it make even the smallest bit of difference? (I will not read the lengthy article because I believe it does not).
  • Lou_BC ???
  • Lou_BC Mustang sedan? 4 doors? A quarterhorse?Ford nomenclature will become:F Series - Pickups Raptor - performance division Bronco - 4x4 SUV/CUVExplorer - police fleetsMustang- cars
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