GM shutters plant that makes electric Chevy Bolt over exploding batteries

General Motors has temporarily shut down its plant in Orion Township, Mich., where its all-electric Chevy Bolt is manufactured, as the automaker recalls 141,000 of the cars over exploding lithium-ion batteries, idling several hundred workers.

The problem, which has yet to be solved, is the latest setback for the automaker giant as the company attempts to convert production to all-electric vehicles by 2035, the Washington Post reports.

“It’s a terrible thing that has happened,” said Tim Grewe, GM’s general director for electrification strategy and cell engineering, in an interview in September.

GM has said it wants to scale up to produce 1 million electric vehicles (EV’s) per year by 2025 while featuring a “global lineup” of 30 EVs by the same year. Over the next decade-and-a-half, the automaker is planning to ditch gasoline-powered vehicles altogether, same as Volkswagen, Ford, and Mercedes-Benz.

The Post adds:

Today, electric cars — plug-in hybrids, battery-powered vehicles and hydrogen-fuel-cell vehicles — make up less than 5 percent of U.S. new-vehicle sales. But policymakers and automakers hope that by 2030, EVs will make up at least 40 percent of U.S. new-car sales. That would be a critical development in the nation’s strategy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The Environmental Protection Agency announced stricter fuel-efficiency standards this month aimed at propelling the nation closer to that goal by 2026, estimating that the new standard will result in electric vehicles gaining about one-fifth of market share by then.

However, in order for GM and the other manufacturers to realize their goals, they will have to demonstrate that they can mass-produce safe EVs.

“I don’t want to minimize this point, but it also lets us build confidence that we’re going to be transparent, we’re going to take action,” Grewe noted, according to the Post.

Chevy Bolt owners got a notice from the automaker late last summer advising them not to park their vehicles within 50 feet of other cars; not to charge their vehicles overnight; and not to keep fully-charged cars in garages.

The Bolt recall covered all of the approximately 141,000 manufactured by GM after the company “identified the issue as dual defects that led battery materials to make contact with one another and the components to combust spontaneously,” the Post noted.

The explosions represent the dilemma of trying to build EVs that have enough power to travel around 400 miles without needing to be recharged, which would mirror the convenience of gas-powered vehicles.

GM isn’t the only automaker with EV development problems.

Late last year, a Tesla Model S caught fire in a San Francisco Bay residential garage and blew off metal garage doors before spreading to other nearby Teslas, resulting in at least a million dollars’ worth of damage. Thus far, fires that do not appear to have come from external sources have been documented in at least five of the Tesla models.

Plus, battery fires last a long time and tend to burn hotter than gas- or diesel-powered vehicles.

“Battery fires can take up to 24 hours to extinguish,” says an emergency response guide for the Model S on the Tesla website. “Consider allowing the battery to burn while protecting exposures.”

Jon Dougherty


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