By issuing a recall of 69,000 electric Bolts on Friday following a series of battery-induced fires, General Motors was trying to stave off a potential crisis. But the totality of GM’s response to the problem has been so inadequate that it risks a crisis of confidence among its EV customers anyway.
GM’s muddled response began in November, when it first issued a Bolt recall following five vehicle fires. It said a software update would remedy the issue. Three more vehicles burst into flames in May and earlier this month, causing GM on July 14 to bizarrely inform Bolt owners, among other things, not to charge the cars overnight, when they might be asleep and not monitoring the vehicles, and to park outdoors rather than in a garage (which could go up in flames). GM might as well have issued a recall at that point.
And GM’s comments on Friday made matters worse. The company said it will replace any defective battery modules that it finds, and will let owners know when they should bring in their vehicles. In the meantime, GM gave Bolt owners another stress-inducing instruction: to make sure their vehicles don’t fall below 70 miles of range and that they are not charged above 90% of capacity.
I asked a GM spokesman whether its announcement meant the company intended to check every battery for defects. The spokesman said the company couldn’t confirm “that level of detail yet” because the process is “still being finalized.”
How can GM claim to be taking care of the potential fire hazard when it can't confirm that it will check every battery for the defect? What is the recall all about if not to check every battery? The spokesman, consulting company talking points, gave roughly the same answer to those questions.
Contrast GM’s response with that of Hyundai, which relies on the same battery supplier (LG Chem) and last year replaced batteries in all relevant vehicles, totalling about 82,000, after encountering its own problem with fire.
It goes without saying that fires are an absolute red line for most consumers, who are highly unlikely to buy an EV if they think it may burst into flames while they or their loved ones are inside. Hyundai’s response showed it understood this axiom. GM doesn’t yet.
We’ll see you back here on Sunday for the next regularly scheduled issue of The Electric.
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About Steve LeVine
Steve LeVine is editor of The Electric. Previously, he worked at Axios, Quartz and Medium, and before that The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. He is the author of The Powerhouse: America, China and the Great Battery War, and is on Twitter @stevelevine