NHTSA opens investigation into LG Energy Solution over EV battery recalls

Breana Noble
The Detroit News

A federal auto safety agency has opened an investigation into Korean manufacturer LG Energy Solution's high-voltage electric-vehicle batteries after their internal failures in several vehicle models led to fire risks and recalls.

The inquiry by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration launched on Friday affects 138,324 vehicles. The action seeks to notify other automakers that could have defective batteries in their vehicles from LGES and ensure any safety recalls are conducted if needed, according to a summary of the probe.

LG Energy Solution has a battery plant in Holland, Michigan.

It's a more aggressive step by the agency after it told The Detroit News in September that it was in touch with LGES to identify other vehicles that may be affected, but had not opened an official investigation.

"We understand NHTSA's latest request is a follow-up procedure to determine if the same or similar batteries involved in the recalls were supplied to other OEMs," LGES said in a statement. "LG Energy Solution will fully cooperate with the inquiry."

The step by NHTSA suggests more electrified vehicles potentially could face a recall just as automakers are seeking to mark a turning point in their historic transformation from polluting gas- and diesel-powered engines that is costing them billions of dollars. Along with concerns over charging speed and availability, electric grid reliability, and costs compared to conventional powertrain vehicles, safety defects and fire risks create another obstacle to consumers embracing EVs.

For the LGES probe, NHTSA cites six recalls or filings, including General Motors Co.'s recall in 2020 that was expanded last year to include every single Chevrolet Bolt EV and EUV ever produced because of fire risks from two manufacturing defects in the batteries. GM on Monday resumed Bolt production at its plant in Lake Orion after months of downtime while it replaced batteries in existing customers' Bolts.

NHTSA also referenced a 2020 recall affecting a single 2019 Smart Fortwo Electric Drive vehicle from Mercedes Benz USA LLC for a fire-risk defect; the 2020 and 2021 recalls affecting Hyundai Motor Co.'s 2019-2020 Kona Electric and 2020 Ioniq Electric vehicles for battery manufacturing defects that create a fire risk;, and a recall issued last month by Volkswagen AG on 2021 ID.4 vehicles for insufficient soldering points that make for unreliable connections in their batteries that could lead to the vehicle breaking down or stalling, risking a crash.

NHTSA also includes the February recall by Stellantis NV of its 2017-2018 Chrysler Pacifica plug-in hybrid minivans. The vehicles do use LG batteries and the recall is for fire risk following at least 12 blazes, but the automaker hasn't determined whether the battery packs were defective or the root cause of the fires.

Stellantis last month also announced with LGES a $4.1 billion investment for a battery manufacturing plant in Windsor, Ontario. LGES additionally is partnering with GM on four battery plants through their Ultium Cells LLC joint venture and plans to quintuple EV battery production at its plant in Holland.

bnoble@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @BreanaCNoble