Beyond the Bolt Battery Problem

Yes, it is an issue right now, but it has serious ramifications going forward

By Gary S. Vasilash

The facts of the situation is that General Motors is recalling all of the Chevrolet Bolts that the company has ever built. About 142,000. “Out of an abundance of caution.” There is a manufacturing defect in the batteries that could lead to fires. The batteries are produced for GM by LG Energy Solution.

GM is going to replace the batteries in the vehicles.

All in, the price is going to be on the order of $1.8-billion.

2022 Chevrolet Bolt EV connected to a DC fast charger during the final stage of production at the General Motors Orion Assembly Plant. (Photo by Steve Fecht for Chevrolet)

GM and LG are currently building two battery plants. But these plants are for a different type of battery—“Ultium” is the brand name—than the type of battery found in the Bolt EV and Bolt EUV. It doesn’t have a brand name.

The new GM EVs—which aren’t out yet—will  have the Ultium batteries, not the type found in the Bolt.

This doesn’t mean that there aren’t potential problems with the Ultium battery somewhere down the road. But it does mean that there aren’t issues for those new vehicles—e.g., Cadillac Lyriq, HUMMER EV—right out of the box.

What could be a real problem for GM—no matter how well the recall is handled—is that of the perception of potential consumers.

There needs to be a sell of the whole idea of an EV. This is not easy. Everyone driving today is at least passingly familiar with pulling into a gas station. But charging is something else entirely. First of all, everyone (I know I am using this broad brush broadly, but let’s face it: we live in a transportation environment that is predicated on petroleum) knows where gas stations are. How many people know where charging stations are? (Yes, most haven’t had a need to look for them, but I have, and they aren’t easy to find, even if you know where they are.) So some people are going to be off-put by that. And there are issues like the comfort of plugging in, and the time required to charge a vehicle. (“What if it is raining?”)

These are real challenges. Non-trivial challenges.

GM now has a group of people who are going to be all the more trepidatious to get an EV that it needs to convince to buy EVs. GM wants the EV to be a mass-market vehicle, not something driven just by the rich or enthusiastic.

All OEMs—with the probable exclusion of Tesla—are pretty much faced with the challenge of convincing people about buying EVs.

GM now has a particular problem as a result of this recall.

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