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GM Recalls 68,000 Chevrolet Bolt EVs Over Battery Fire Risk

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General Motors (GM) announced late last week it is recalling over 68,000 2017-2019 Chevrolet Bolt EVs worldwide following a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) investigation into battery fires. At this moment it is not known how many models in Canada specifically are affected.

GM has been able to identify the source of the problem, which is attributed to a batch of batteries supplied by LG Chem's Ochang, South Korea plant. Batteries can catch fire when they are at or close to maximum charge.

"As you may be aware, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration launched an investigation into a few reports the agency received from Chevrolet Bolt EV owners about potential fires," Chevrolet said in a message to owners that was also posted on its web site. "GM had already been investigating these reports prior to that announcement, in cooperation with NHTSA."

- Jesse Ortega, Chief Engineer, Chevrolet Electric Vehicles

The fires were initially reported in 2017, 2018 and 2019 Bolt models. Three separate documented incidents left a similar burn pattern on or around the rear seats. The NHTSA concluded after investigating that the fires likely originated in the car's battery compartment and then spread to the cabin. Working together with GM, NHTSA eliminated several other possible causes, such as faulty charging equipment.

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The NHTSA and GM also confirmed that what later grew to five separate fires occurred in batteries near their maximum state of charge, although the precise cause of these fires hasn’t yet been pinpointed. GM is distributing a software update to dealerships’ service centres, which will limit the maximum state of charge to 90 percent. In the short term, this should eliminate the conditions that allow for a fire to occur while the company tries to find a permanent fix.

The NHTSA is urging owners to park their cars outside and away from buildings until they can have the software update installed. Owners are also encouraged to manually set the maximum state of charge of their batteries to 90 percent. For 2017-2018 models, this means selecting the "Hill Top Reserve" charging mode; owners of 2019 models can activate the "Target Charge Level" and set it to 90 percent.

As for the 2020 models, GM said it is not recalling the 2020 models because their batteries have a different configuration than previous models.