GM expands Bolt recall, ups total cost to $1.8 billion
Detroit — General Motors Co. is recalling all of its current electric vehicles worldwide because of a potential battery fire risk, a setback as it pushes to expand its EV portfolio and become an emissions-free automaker by 2035.
GM on Friday expanded a previously announced recall of Chevrolet Bolt EVs and Bolt EUVs, adding 73,018 vehicles from model years 2019-2022 for "rare" battery defects that could cause the fires.
The recall now covers 141,685 vehicles and is expected to cost $1.8 billion. A total of 10 fires have been confirmed by the automaker. No deaths were reported, but there have been some smoke inhalation injuries.
The expanded recall is rolling out as GM pursues its goal of an emissions free lineup by the middle of next decade — a goal that will not be met without consumer acceptance. While the automaker's next batch of EVs are being developed with different battery technology and chemistry — and made in partnership with LG Energy Solution through a joint venture rather than supplied by LG — the automaker will still have to be careful going forward, experts say.
"They can distance themselves somewhat because it was a non-GM company that made these," said Karl Brauer, executive analyst for iseecars.com, a vehicle search site. "If any kind of battery issue of this nature, or any other nature, spring up in the future, GM ... has to own that."
The automaker, after further investigation, confirmed Friday it found defects in current Bolt EV cells and the new Bolt EUV cells. GM previously recalled 68,667 Bolt EVs from model years 2017 through 2019.
"This is a perfect example of kind of where we are in the world of EVs, which is in a rapidly changing, evolving kind of learning curve section of this evolution," Brauer said. "We are in a place where you can have more than a billion dollars worth of batteries that have to be replaced that have been around for years."
The recall is not expected to affect upcoming EV launches, including the GMC Hummer EV truck expected later this year, GM spokesman Dan Flores said.
Following the announcement late Friday, GM's stock price dropped slightly after market close.
"The scale and scope of this recall is a black eye for GM but it’s better to rip the Band-Aid off and get through this safety issue," Wedbush analyst Dan Ives said in a statement. "The numbers are large and it’s a concern for the Street."
GM and LG do not yet have a fix for the defected batteries. The defects, GM said, are a torn anode tab and folded separator that are both present in the same battery cell. The automaker said it will replace defective battery modules in the Bolts with new ones.
Flores said GM "will only begin replacing battery modules in customer vehicles when GM and LG are confident in the safety of LG’s product. We are working aggressively with LG to adjust production to have replacement modules available as soon as possible."
The Bolt EV and EUV are both made at Orion Assembly in Lake Orion, which is down next week due to the global semiconductor shortage. Flores would not speculate on whether future Bolt production will be affected because of the battery issue.
Sam Abuelsamid, principal research analyst with Guidehouse Insights, said when production does restart following the chip downtime, GM will want to "to prioritize any good modules that they have ... to put those into the recalled vehicles; they will want to do that first. Most likely, they will keep the plant shut down for a period of time until they have enough stock to prepare all of the vehicles that are in the field."
Abuelsamid said the expanded recall could affect future EV sales.
"It's definitely not a good look, especially given this is something that they've had to go back to multiple times now," he said, but added that consumers have short-term memories when it comes to recalls.
GM stressed the affected batteries were supplied by its partner LG Energy Solution and produced at LG manufacturing facilities outside of the LG plant in Ochang, South Korea.
GM said it is "pursuing commitments from LG for reimbursement of this field action."
In a statement, LG said it is "actively working to ensure that the recall measures are carried out smoothly. The reserves and ratio of cost to the recall will be decided depending on the result of the joint investigation looking into the root cause, currently being held by GM, LG Electronics and LG Energy Solution.”
GM and LG formed the joint venture Ultium Cells LLC and have two battery cell manufacturing plants planned. The recall will not affect that partnership, Flores said.
"We have a long-standing partnership with LG, and we'll continue to work with them to address known issues," he said. "Both companies have been working around the clock reviewing data and finalizing plans for repairs."
Flores added: "The cell manufacturing process that will be used at the Ultium plants will include additional inspection technologies, and process verifications, which will enhance battery cell quality."
Last month, GM for a second time recalled more than 68,000 Bolt EVs globally from model years 2017 through 2019 for a potential battery fire risk. The second recall came after a Bolt in Vermont repaired under a previous recall remedy still caught fire.
GM said Friday it will notify customers when replacement parts are ready and until then Bolt drivers should: only charge the battery to 90%, charge more frequently and avoid depleting the battery below about 70 miles of remaining range. They also should park the vehicle outside.
“Our focus on safety and doing the right thing for our customers guides every decision we make at GM,” said Doug Parks, executive vice president for global product development, purchasing and supply chain. “As leaders in the transition to an all-electric future, we know that building and maintaining trust is critical. GM customers can be confident in our commitment to taking the steps to ensure the safety of these vehicles.”
Experts note that battery fires aren't unique to GM — the leading EV maker, Tesla, also has had instances of vehicle batteries igniting — and that gas-powered autos aren't immune from fire either.
"Automobiles have been catching on fire for decades and you don't have to have an EV to make a vehicle catch on fire," Brauer said. "This doesn't help the cause of transitioning our U.S. consumer fleet to EVs, this is not helpful for that, it's also not unique, and it's not unheard of and it's not unprecedented to have fire issues related to any kind of automobile."
The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration opened an investigation into the Bolt fires in October 2020, "and continues to evaluate the recall remedies and reported incidents, including fires," the agency said in a statement Friday.