General Motors is recalling 2017-2019 model year Chevy Bolts a second time because of a risk that the battery packs could catch fire. The new recall comes after two Bolts recently caught fire despite having received the purported software fix from the previous recall, which was first announced in November 2020.
GM has also finally shed a little light on the source of the problem. The automaker says that, working with battery supplier LG Chem, it discovered that some of the cells that make up the Bolt’s pack can have two simultaneous manufacturing defects. The company did not say specifically what these defects are, but when they are present they can cause a fire.
GM says it’s still preparing the recall, and so it’s telling owners to take a bunch of precautions in the meantime until they’re able to check and attempt to fix every vehicle. The company says owners shouldn’t charge the vehicle to more than 90 percent, or let it drop below 70 miles (which is roughly 27 percent). That means owners will only be able to use about 60 percent (around 155 miles) of their vehicle’s capacity until GM is able to complete the new recall fix.
Owners should also charge their vehicle after each use, according to GM. Of course, GM is still warning owners not to park their vehicles inside or near their house, and says they shouldn’t leave Bolts charging overnight. GM has more information, including customer support numbers, on its recall website.
Once GM is ready to perform the recall, technicians will inspect the battery packs for this particular defect and replace any modules that contain problematic cells. They were already supposed to be checking Bolt battery packs for defects like this during the prior recall, but GM tells The Verge that the new defects were only recently discovered.
About a dozen fires are thought to have occurred in these model year Bolts. The previous fix, which was shared in May — months after the recall was first announced — involved installing software on the affected Bolts that was supposed to “detect potential issues related to changes in battery module performance before problems can develop.” This extra software wasn’t enough to stop two more fires from happening, though.
LG Chem also supplies the cells for the Kona EV, which Hyundai recalled after reports of fires, and even discontinued altogether in South Korea. The battery supplier has run into all sorts of problems with other products, too. It has recalled some home battery systems, and one of its grid storage projects caught fire, as Electrek points out. Porsche recently recalled the LG Chem-powered Taycan over power loss problems.
While it takes some special care and instruction to know how to extinguish a fire in an electric vehicle, there isn’t any data that shows they happen at any higher rate than fires in internal combustion engine cars. Occasional fires are bound to happen. But the situation that GM — and, really LG — has found itself in with these Bolts is much different. A few years ago the Bolt was one of the first legitimate long-range electric vehicles on the market. But now it’s running the risk of taking on a much different mantle.