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GM recalls nearly 69,000 Chevy Bolt electric cars because of fire risk

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Chevrolet Bolt cars subject to the recall should be parked outdoors, away from homes, until the repairs have been made, U.S. regulators say.
(Associated Press)

General Motors is recalling nearly 69,000 Chevrolet Bolt electric cars worldwide because the batteries have caught fire in five of them.

The company said Friday that engineers are working to figure out what’s causing the fires. Two people have suffered smoke inhalation due to the fires, and a house was set ablaze.

U.S. safety regulators said the cars should be parked outdoors until the recall repairs have been made.

Until a permanent fix is developed, dealers will install software that limits charging to 90% of the battery’s capacity, Bolt Executive Chief Engineer Jesse Ortega said.

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The recall covers Bolts from the 2017 through 2019 model years, including nearly 51,000 in the U.S.

Last month, the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced that it was investigating the fires. The agency said in documents that the fires began under the rear seat while the cars were parked and unattended.

Ortega said engineers have traced the fires to Bolts with battery cells made at an LG Chem factory in Ochang, South Korea, from May 2016 to May 2019. The fires have happened when the batteries were close to being fully charged, he said.

“We have no confirmed incidents from vehicles with cells not produced at this factory or a lower state of charge,” Ortega said.

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Some 2019 Bolts and all 2020 and 2021 versions have cells made at an LG Chem plant in Michigan and are not included in the recall, he said.

GM hopes to find the cause and have a permanent repair in early 2021, Ortega said. Engineers are looking at several potential causes, he told reporters Friday.

Until the software updates can be done, GM is asking owners to manually change adjustable settings to keep the batteries from being charged fully. Owners who aren’t able to do this should park their Bolts outdoors and contact a dealer, Ortega said.

NHTSA, the government safety agency, said in a statement that until the recall repairs are made, the safest place to park the Bolts is outside and away from homes.

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“These vehicles can catch fire even if they are turned off, parked and disconnected from a charging unit,” NHTSA said. At least one of the five fires spread from a Bolt to a home, the agency said.

GM said it would start notifying dealers and customers of the interim recall immediately.

Ortega said that GM noticed the fires and began investigating in July, and that the automaker is cooperating with NHTSA.

The software change will cut about 10% from the Bolt’s range on a single charge. GM said it understands owners could be upset about their cars not being fully functional, and it will address complaints on a case-by-case basis. Older Bolts can go about 238 miles per charge.

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The National Transportation Safety Board, a federal agency that investigates transportation-related problems, is investigating electric-vehicle fires, and a report is expected soon.


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