From Hyundai to Tesla and BMW, battery fires turn the heat on electric cars

Electric vehicles (EVs), benefiting globally from a push for tighter emissions controls, are facing challenges after a global string of fires from overheating batteries.

The burnt wreckage of a Hyundai Kona Electric vehicle is seen after it caught fire in South Korea. (via REUTERS)
The burnt wreckage of a Hyundai Kona Electric vehicle is seen after it caught fire in South Korea.

Here are some vehicle recalls and investigations facing major EV makers worldwide.


After 16 Kona EVs caught fire in Korea, Canada and Europe over two years, Hyundai Motor Co is expanding a recall to cover at least 74,000 of its top-selling EVs in South Korea, the United States, Europe and Canada to update its battery management system.

About 23,000 Kona EVs in South Korea have completed the software upgrade, with 800 of them found to have battery defects requiring replacement of affected modules, according to the office of lawmaker Jang Kyung-tae, which was briefed by South Korea's transport ministry.

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Hyundai, in a filing to the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in October, blamed "internal damage to certain cells of the lithium-ion battery increasing the risk of an electrical short circuit."

Also Read : Hyundai faces lawsuit over Kona EV fires

The battery maker, LG Chem Ltd denied any cell defects, saying a joint investigation was under way.


General Motors Co said last week it was recalling nearly 69,000 Chevrolet Bolt EVs worldwide that pose a fire risk after five reported fires and two minor injuries. Affected vehicles will get battery software updates, limiting charges to 90% of capacity.

In October, NHTSA opened a probe after reviewing reports of three Bolt EVs catching fire under the rear seat while parked. The probe covers 77,842 Bolt EVs from the 2017 through 2020 model years.

LG Chem is the supplier of the batteries.


File photo of Ford Kuga.
File photo of Ford Kuga.

In September, Ford Motor Co recalled 20,500 Kuga plug-in hybrid EVs in Europe and suspended sales over battery fire concerns. There had been seven fires but no injuries.

Ford offered to replace the entire battery pack, saying the root cause had been identified as a battery-cell contamination issue in its supplier’s production process, which could cause "serious consequences."

The Kuga setbacks forced the automaker to pool its fleet with other automakers to avoid a fine. It also delayed its US production of its plug-in electric Escape SUV, which shares the same batteries, to next year.

Samsung SDI is the battery supplier.


In the United States, Bayerische Motoren Werke AG (BMW) said it will recall 4,509 plug-in hybrid EVs, saying debris may have been able to enter battery cells during production at supplier Samsung SDI.

Also Read : Battery fires put BMW and Ford on back foot just as electric vehicles take off

This could lead to short-circuiting and a "thermal event" which could increase the risk of an injury, BMW said, instructing drivers not to charge their vehicles.

Altogether BMW has recalled some 26,000 plug-in hybrids, mostly in Europe, over the potential battery problems.

A spokesman at Samsung SDI said an investigation is under way about the cause of the fire, declining to elaborate further.


Tesla Model S (File photo) (REUTERS)
Tesla Model S (File photo) (REUTERS)

NHTSA said last year that it was probing potential defects in certain Tesla Inc Model S and Model X vehicles that could result in non-crash fires in the affected battery packs.

The probe was in response to a petition from an attorney representing plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit filed against the electric car maker last year. They claim Tesla limited the battery range of older vehicles via a software update to avoid a costly recall to fix alleged defective batteries.

Japanese battery manufacturer Panasonic Corp supplies Tesla with battery cells, while Tesla turns them into battery packs.

First Published Date: 19 Nov 2020, 08:51 AM IST
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