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GM recalls 68,000 Chevy Bolt EVs for potential battery fires

Kalea Hall
The Detroit News

Detroit — General Motors Co. is voluntarily recalling 68,667 Chevrolet Bolt EVs  manufactured between 2017-2019 as it works with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to pinpoint what caused multiple battery fires.

The automaker has found five confirmed incidents of battery fires on the Bolt when the batteries were either at full-charge or almost fully charged. Three of those five incidents were highlighted in October by NHTSA, which is investigating the fires. GM has found two reports of smoke-inhalation injuries out of the five. 

2019 Chevrolet Bolt EV

The recall comes after NHTSA began investigating after receiving two complaints about battery fires and found another similar incident. The Bolt fires aren't the first time electric vehicle fires have been a concern. NHTSA is still investigating fires in Tesla Inc. electric cars.

GM still is unsure what caused the fires exactly, but has found similarities in the five incidents, including the amount of battery charge and that the cells used in these batteries were all manufactured at a Korean LG Chem plant. The 2020 Bolts are not included in the recall because their cells are manufactured with a different chemistry. 

"The safety of our products is the highest priority for the entire GM team," Jesse Ortega, executive chief engineer for the Chevrolet Bolt EV, said during a briefing with media on Friday. "We will continue to cooperate with NHTSA and we are working around the clock on our own investigation to identify the issue."

The recall, which covers more than 50,900 Bolts in the U.S., will require dealerships to reflash the vehicles' battery software to limit the maximum state of charge to 90%, Ortega said: "We believe this action will reduce the risk of battery fire while we work to identify the issue, and determine the appropriate final repair. We expect this software update to be available beginning Nov. 17."

GM, which became aware of the incidents at the start of this summer, doesn't believe the issue is present in all of the vehicles it's recalling, but GM believes "it is prudent to limit the state of charge as a precaution as we continue our investigation," Ortega said. 

Until consumers get their charging limits adjusted at the dealership, Chevrolet is asking them to change their settings to use "hilltop reserve" for 2017 and 2018 Bolts. Consumers with 2019 Bolt EVs, should use the target charge-level option and set the maximum capacity to 90%.

More than 77,800 Bolts from 2017-20 model years are covered in the NHTSA probe into why fires were ignited in the electric battery compartment area of the Bolts. 

The federal agency received two reports about a 2018 Bolt and 2019 Bolt "alleging that the vehicles caught fire under the rear seat while parked and unattended."

The office conducted additional research, and found a 2017 Bolt EV with a similar burn pattern in the interior rear seat area. In all cases the fire damage appeared to be concentrated in the electric battery compartment area. 

khall@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @bykaleahall