The Vermont state police released this photo of the 2019 Chevrolet Bolt EV that caught fire on July 1, 2021 in the driveway of State Representative Timothy Briglin, a Democrat.
State Police of Vermont
Automakers are spending billions of dollars to move to cleaner and greener battery-powered vehicles, but the new technology comes at an even higher cost: reputation-damaging vehicle fires, recalls, sudden power loss and trouble starting some cars.
The battery learning curve is steep for traditional automakers, and battery technology remains a challenge, even for Tesla, which has faced similar challenges. But automakers are eager to embrace the new technology with White House President Joe Biden pushing for half of new car sales to be electric by 2030, a plan likely to involve billions of dollars in taxes and fees. other incentives.
While expensive recalls are happening in traditional internal combustion engine vehicles, many of the current problem spots for electric vehicles are software and batteries — two areas critical to EVs that have historically not been core expertise for Detroit automakers.
“Every time you step into a new area of technology, there’s more to learn that you know,” said Doug Betts, president of the automotive division at J.D. Power, to The Washington City Times. “There are risks and there are things to learn.”
The problems are already showing up on company balance sheets. Three high-profile recalls from automakers in the past year — General Motors, Hyundai Motor and Ford Motor — involving approximately 132,500 electric vehicles together cost $2.2 billion. Recently, GM said it would spend $800 million on a recall of its Chevrolet Bolt EV after several reported fires resulting from two “rare manufacturing defects” in the lithium-ion battery cells in the vehicle’s battery pack.
Recalls are common in the automotive industry, especially for new vehicles. It’s one of the reasons why vehicles with the latest technologies have traditionally performed poorly in some J.D. Power studies.
“If you go from gas to electric, there’s going to be a whole host of new issues that you’re going to have to deal with, and we just need to figure out how to deal with those issues that you know we haven’t had to deal with in the past.” said lead analyst Sam Abuelsamid of Guidehouse Insights.
Recent recalls or issues with batteries or software from new EVs include:
- GM issued a second recall of its 2017-2019 Chevrolet Bolt EVs last month after at least two of the electric vehicles repaired for a previous problem went up in flames. The automaker said officials from GM and LG Energy Solution, which provide the vehicle’s battery cells, have identified a second “rare manufacturing defect” in the EVs that increases the risk of fire. The $800 million recall covers about 69,000 of the cars worldwide, including nearly 51,000 in the US.
- Porsche recalled the Taycan, its flagship EV, due to a software glitch that caused the vehicle to lose full power while driving.
- In April, Ford Motor said a “small number” of early customers of its Mustang Mach-E crossover EV reported that the 12-volt batteries in their vehicles wouldn’t charge, causing those cars to malfunction. Ford said it was due to a software issue.
In Europe, Ford recalled about 20,500 Kuga plug-in hybrid crossovers last year and suspended sales of the vehicles over concerns that the battery packs in the vehicles could potentially overheat and cause a vehicle fire. It cost the automaker $400 million.
- Hyundai Motor said earlier this year it would spend $900 million on a recall after fires in 15 of its Kona EVs.
- BMW, Volvo and others have also recalled electric vehicles, including plug-in hybrid models, due to problems with battery systems.
Betts, whose career has included Toyota, Fiat Chrysler and Apple, said he believes old automakers will solve such problems as they bring more electric vehicles to market. He said it’s only a matter of time.
“I wouldn’t say the traditional OEMs have had more or less problems than Tesla,” he said. “There have also been fires with Teslas. Of course they now have much more experience.”
While Tesla has avoided mass recalls of its EVs due to battery problems, lawsuits and investigations by federal officials in the US and Norway could pose problems for the company.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration opened an investigation into Tesla’s high-voltage batteries in October 2019.
This Tesla Model S Plaid caught fire while the driver was driving, according to a local fire chief and attorneys representing the driver, on June 29, 2021 in Haverford, Pennsylvania
Provided by Geragos & Geragos
The investigation was opened after NHTSA’s Office of Defects Investigation received a petition claiming that Tesla rolled out one or more software updates to control and hide a potential defect that could lead to non-crash fires in affected battery packs.
California-based attorney Edward Chen, who filed the petition, also filed a class action complaint for the matter against Tesla in August 2019. Although Tesla recently agreed to pay $1.5 million to settle the lawsuit, the NHTSA’s investigation remains open.
After the settlement, CEO Elon Musk said on Twitter: “If we’re wrong, we’re wrong. In this case, we were.”
Another proposed California class action lawsuit, Fish v. Tesla Inc., alleges that Tesla knowingly specified the capacity of the high-voltage batteries in its cars and used remote “battery health checks” and software updates to prevent the degradation of the battery. battery and refuse the owners the battery replacement to which they were entitled under the warranty.
The complaint says the chief prosecutor’s 2014 Tesla Model S lost more than half of its range in just six years, dropping to the equivalent of 144 miles on a full charge from a 265-mile range when he first used it. bought.
Battery complaints in the US were similar to those in Norway, where more than 30 Tesla drivers told courts that a 2019 software update shortened their Tesla’s battery life, reduced range and increased the cars’ charging time. Norwegian said. newspaper Nettavisen.
The court tentatively sided with the owners, telling Tesla it may have to pay customers affected by the battery throttling software up to $16,000 each, which could equate to a $163 million payout.
In April, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said during an earnings call that there were “more challenges than expected” developing new versions of the Tesla Model S and X – the company’s more expensive vehicles. That included the recently released Model S Plaid and “quite a bit of development to make sure the new S/X’s battery is safe.”
Tesla did not respond to comment on the federal investigations or allegations. The company is not yet shipping the updated version of its luxury SUV, the Model X, and has delayed deliveries of many customers’ Model S vehicles this year.
Car fires are generally very common. In 2018, according to the National Fire Protection Association, there were 212,500 vehicle fires causing 560 civilian deaths, 1,500 civilian deaths and $1.9 billion in direct property damage in the US.
Most of those fires did not involve EVs, which still make up only about 2% to 3% of US new car sales per year. However, car manufacturers and their battery cell suppliers will need to be extremely careful when manufacturing battery powered electric vehicles and their components.
“The production processes will really have to be tightened up,” said Abuelsamid. “It’s part of dealing with the way batteries behave. They don’t like heat and they don’t like pollution. They’re very sensitive.”
Something as small as a false spark from welding or some other process can cause a serious problem in battery cells.
Experts are still trying to determine the incidence rates of EV fires; the data is difficult to collect from different fire brigades. Fleet Auto News previously reported on records from the London Fire Brigade that suggest, based on a small local sample, “a 0.04% incident rate for petrol and diesel vehicle fires, while the percentage for plug-in vehicles [sic] is more than double 0.1%.”