Multiple recalls spark Fed investigation of LG’s electric car batteries

Enlarge / Lithium-ion cells made by LG Energy Solutions have been linked to multiple fires and malfunctions since 2020.

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The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating safety defects in lithium-ion cells made by LG Energy Solutions after a string of recalls since February 2020. The most high-profile of these has been Chevrolet, which has had to recall more than 141,000 Bolt EVs . Still, there have also been recalls for the Hyundai Kona EV, Smart ForTwo Electric, Chrysler Pacifica plug-in hybrid, and last month, some Volkswagen ID.4s, due to problems with LG-made cells.

Chevrolet’s Bolt recall probably gained the most attention due to the risk of fire, which remains a public concern regarding electric vehicles despite the far higher risk of internal combustion engine car fires. But not all the recalls were for the risk of fire.

Watch out for bumps

The first recall cited by NHTSA’s Office of Defects Investigation concerns a single 2019 Smart EQ ForTwo. In this case, Mercedes-Benz (which owns Smart) discovered that the welding that connected individual cells and modules was not up to snuff. Consequently, the right kind of bang or bump could interrupt the battery’s circuit, causing the car to immediately lose all power, a problem that necessitated a recall.

A similar problem could affect 351 model-year 2021 Volkswagen ID.4 crossovers. These were recalled in March 2022 due to a soldering issue within the high-voltage battery. The potentially unreliable connections in the battery could prevent an ID.4 from starting, something that occurred in January 2021 somewhere outside the US.

Don’t park these ones indoors

However, the potential fire problem affected many more vehicles. Hyundai’s headaches with LG cells started in 2020 after a number of Kona EVs caught fire in South Korea, Canada, Finland, and Austria. Overall, it recalled 82,000 cars for an expensive battery replacement at an estimated cost of $900 million. In this case, a folded anode tab in the battery cell could allow the lithium plating on the anode to contact the cathode, causing a short circuit. Until the fix had been carried out, owners were advised to park their cars outside in case of a vehicle fire while unattended.

Chevrolet’s Bolt EV problem involved a pair of defects in LG cells. Some had torn anode tabs, others folded separators, but both could conspire to cause a car fire. As a result, Chevrolet had to recall nearly 142,000 Bolt EVs at a cost of more than $1.8 billion. All Bolt EVs will receive new 66 kWh batteries, but until that long and laborious process is complete, NHTSA also suggested owners park their cars outside.

And in February 2022, 16,741 Chrysler Pacifica plug-in hybrid owners joined the “better park outdoors” club. In total, Stellantis has been looking at 12 Pacifica PHEV fires between 2019 and 2022. Although Chrysler issued a recall, it’s still not sure what the problem is. However, NHTSA’s ODI notes that all 12 minivans had battery packs containing LG cells.

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