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General Motors Recalling All 17-19 Chevy Bolts Due to Fire Risks From Batteries

According to the Detroit Free Press, General Motors is recalling all models year 2017 through 2019 all-electric Chevy Bolts because they may pose a fire risk. The move means recalling all 68,000 all-electric Bolts sold globally, (51,000 in the U.S.) during those model years.

This recall is significant because the Chevy Bolt was the most popular non-Tesla all-electric vehicle sold in the United States in 2019, according to CleanTechnica.com.

As of right now, the automaker is telling people to reduce the amount of charge customers put in the car’s battery to reduce the risk of catching fire because having a fully-charged battery increased the risk of fire, according to the company:

“The automaker is warning owners of those vehicles that until dealers can make a software fix, they should reset their battery to a maximum of 90% charge to lessen the risk of the car catching fire. If they cannot do that, GM advises to not park the car in a garage or carport.

GM said it found five vehicles in which the batteries caught fire without any impact, injuring two people with smoke inhalation.”

Leaving electric cars in the driveway or on the street may work to prevent the risk of property damage for the electric vehicle owner, but it also brings other challenges. If the car is parked on the street, an EV that catches fire poses a risk to other vehicles parked nearby or neighboring property.

An EV parked on the street also presents a practical challenge for the owner of the vehicle because most people charge their EVs in their garages at night. Depending on how far away the owner needs to park from their house, running extension cords to the car may or may not be feasible.

Other brands have had difficulty with EV batteries catching fire as well. According to E&E News:

“The move adds to a string of fire incidents involving batteries used in electric vehicles and with energy storage. In August, a utility in Arizona released a report finding a defective battery cell sparked an explosion in an energy storage facility last year (Energywire, July 29). BMW and Hyundai also issued EV recalls this year because of battery fire concerns.”

The prevalence of fires from EV is difficult to determine because there are a very limited number of full-scale EV fire tests because of the high cost and the restriction of trade secrets, according to a study in the academic journal Fire Technology. A 2017 study from the National Highway and Traffic Association suggests that electric cars using lithium-ion batteries are no more likely to catch fire than cars using gasoline or diesel fuel, but the Fire Technology study suggests that these fires can be more difficult to put out than those involving vehicles that use traditional fuels.

According to Fire Technology:

“EV fire is harder to suppress because of the potential re-ignition of battery and the difficulty in cooling the battery pack inside.

The website ezoomed.com elaborates:

“Extinguishing a fire in a battery-electric vehicle (BEV) is generally more challenging than with petrol or diesel cars. This is because the lithium-ion battery continues to be at risk of reigniting, even after the initial fire has been extinguished.

In internal-combustion engine (ICE) cars, once the fire has been put out, the fuel is removed from the vehicle. However, this is not possible for electric cars as removing the battery is not quite as simple as emptying a fuel tank.  And since an EV battery still continues to contain energy, it can reignite the fire.”

None of this is to say that engineers will not be able to fix the problems associated with EV batteries in the future, but bad public policy is absolutely pushing out EVs before these issues have been addressed.

For example, California’s Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) mandate, which Governor Walz wants to impose on Minnesotans, requires automakers to “offer for sale” electric vehicles in the state. This mandate is the key reason why more than 30,000 Chevy Bolts (more than half of the Bolts sold nationwide in model years 2017-2019) are registered in California, according to Atlas EV Hub.

California’s car mandates are pushing automakers to prioritize volume before electric vehicle technology is ready for prime time, which is driving up prices for the rest of us, and also potentially putting people at risk.

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