G.M. Expands Chevrolet Bolt Recall Over Battery Fire Concern

Source: By Neal E. Boudette, New York Times • Posted: Sunday, August 22, 2021

The recall now covers the car’s entire output, beginning with the 2017 version. The latest move, to add three model years, raises costs by $1 billion.

A 2018 Chevrolet Bolt on a General Motors assembly line in Lake Orion, Mich.
Rebecca Cook/Reuters

General Motors said on Friday that it was expanding its recall of Chevrolet Bolt electric cars that have been found to be at risk of overheating and catching fire as a result of manufacturing defects.

The company said it was recalling Bolts from the 2020 through 2022 model years and a few 2019 Bolts that were not covered under a previous recall. The move means all 141,000 Bolts that G.M. has produced — going back to the 2017 model — are under recall.

The Bolt’s troubles are a setback from G.M. and its chief executive, Mary T. Barra, who is betting heavily that consumers will rapidly switch to electric vehicles in the years ahead. The company plans to spend $35 billion on electric and autonomous vehicles from 2020 to 2025, build four battery plants in the United States and end production of gasoline-powered cars and trucks by 2035.

G.M. said the move announced on Friday would cost the company $1 billion on top of the $800 million it had allocated for previous Bolt recalls. It also said it would seek reimbursement from its battery supplier, LG Chem.

“In the transition to an all-electric future, we know that building and maintaining trust is critical,” Doug Parks, an executive vice president at the automaker, said in a statement. “G.M. customers can be confident in our commitment to taking the steps to ensure the safety of these vehicles.”

The company aims to introduce 30 electric vehicles over the next few years, including 20 in the United States, all using a new, modular battery design that is different than the packs used in the Bolt.

“We really think that we have a strategy that will allow us to drive higher revenue, operating efficiencies and improved and outstanding customer experience,” Ms. Barra said in a conference call this month. The new battery system, called Ultium, is expected to cost less and allow vehicles to travel farther, she said.

“It gives us flexibility and scalability that is going to allow us to accelerate the E.V.s that we’re going to put into market across the entire portfolio,” Ms. Barra added.

The first model using the new battery system is a GMC Hummer luxury sport-utility vehicle due to go into production soon. It will be followed by an electric Cadillac Lyriq S.U.V. G.M. is also working on a battery-powered version of its Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck.

Other automakers are pursuing similar strategies to transition away from internal-combustion engines. Both Ford Motor and Volkswagen have budgeted amounts similar to G.M. for electric-vehicle development. Ford has introduced an electric S.U.V. called the Mustang Mach-E and expects to add an electric version of its F-150 pickup truck next year.

Volkswagen has started selling its own electric S.U.V., the ID.4 and is ramping up production, starting to build the vehicle at its plant in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Cooling and controlling vehicle battery packs has proved to be a challenge for automakers. The high voltage in the batteries generates tremendous heat, and fires typically burn with great intensity and can take hours to put out.

Tesla cars have caught on fire because of overheating in their battery systems. Hyundai recently recalled a small number of electric Kona S.U.V.s to replace batteries.

The expansion to the Bolt recall covers 73,000 vehicles, of which 60,000 are in the United States. A recall a month ago covered 2017-19 models, a total of 68,000 cars, including about 51,000 in the U.S. market.

The move on Friday is the third fix in the last year involving the Bolt. In November, the company offered to add software to address concerns that some of the high-voltage batteries “may pose a risk of fire when charged to full, or very close to full, capacity,” according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Two fires occurred after that recall, including one in a Bolt that had the updated software.

The recalled Bolts use battery packs made in South Korea by LG Chem, which formed a joint venture with G.M. that is building battery plants in Ohio and Tennessee and expects to build others as the automaker rolls out new electric models. G.M. and LG are planning to add two other battery factories in the United States, but the locations have not been chosen.

G.M. and LG Chem have linked the fires to two manufacturing defects that occur on rare occasions. The companies have found that a short-circuit can occur if an anode tab is torn in manufacturing and if a separator between battery cells becomes folded. Under the recall, G.M. plans to replace the defective battery modules.

LG Chem could not be reached for comment on Friday.