Chevy Bolt Battery Recall Could Top $800 million
Vehicle recalls are a routine part of the auto industry. It’s not uncommon for a manufacturer to have a handful of recalls every year. Most are preemptive. Some are issued pending fines or action by consumer protection agencies. Few ever reach the scope and scale of the most recent Chevy Bolt battery recall from General Motors (GM).
In July 2021, GM was forced to issue a recall for upwards of 70,000 Chevy Bolt electric vehicles (EVs). The problem? Vehicle fires caused by battery combustion. The recall is set to be one of the largest in terms of costs to the company, and it’s a major blow to the credibility of GM’s growing electric fleet.
The full scope and scale of the recall
The decision to mass-recall Chevy Bolt batteries isn’t a spur-of-the-moment one. Following four claims of vehicle fires, GM began investigating Chevy Bolt EV batteries in November 2020. Since then, there have been nine total claims of vehicle fires caused by faulty Chevy Bolt EV batteries — all of which occurred while the cars were turned off and plugged in.
The Chevy Bolt recall is unlike anything we’ve seen before. In the previous decade, the average cost for an auto recall was around $500 per unit. In contrast, the Chevy Bolt recalls will average around $11,650 per vehicle. Recent figures show the total cost to GM topping $800 million. In terms of total vehicles recalled and costs to the automaker, it’s set to be one of the largest auto recalls in history.
Persistent problems with the Chevy Bolt
The Chevy Bolt has experienced a swath of issues since its debut in late 2016. The current battery debacle is actually the result of two recalls rolled into one — both thus far failing to fix the problem. The second round came after two Chevy Bolt vehicles, one in Vermont and one in New Jersey, caught fire after assurances they were fixed during the first recall. The situation doesn’t bode well for the reputation of GM or its EV fleet.
“GM is in the court of public opinion where their product looks to people to be so unsafe that you better leave it outside or else it’ll burn your house down,” said University of Michigan business and law professor, Erik Gordon. “It’s not a courtroom where they have to provide evidence, it’s the court of customer opinion.”
Despite the mammoth scope of its battery debacle, GM isn’t alone in navigating the difficulties of EV recalls. Several other automotive manufacturers, including Ford and BMW, have also recalled their EV batteries. Many EVs feature high-voltage lithium-ion batteries, which the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board recently found to pose a potential threat to first responders at crash sites.
Still no fix for the battery, other than to replace
GM engineers haven’t yet discovered the reason for the faulty batteries. Until they find a solution, GM has little choice but to continue spending money on the recalls. The situation has become a top priority for GM as it seeks to tamp down on the costs of an ongoing recall and preserve its reputation in the EV age.
“GM and LG engineers are working around the clock on a fix,” said GM spokesman Dan Flores, “We understand this second recall is a huge inconvenience for our customers. All I can do is apologize.”
As it searches for a solution, GM recommends owners of 2017-2019 Chevy Bolt vehicles take certain safety precautions. Owners should only charge up to 90% of total battery capacity and avoid letting the battery life drop below 70 miles of range. GM also recommends owners park the vehicle outside and avoid charging it overnight.