A 2019 Chevrolet Bolt EV caught hearth at a house in Cherokee County, Georgia on Sept. 13, 2021, based on the native hearth division.
Cherokee County Fireplace Division
DETROIT – As Basic Motors scrambles to restore defects that triggered fires in no less than 13 Chevrolet Bolt EVs, the automaker is aggressively working to make sure the identical issues do not seep into its next-generation Ultium batteries and its extremely anticipated relaunch of an all-electric model of the Hummer this fall.
The brand new energy system is essential to the automaker’s future because it pivots to completely provide electrical automobiles by 2035. The batteries and the corporate’s complete Ultium system – platforms, motors and different elements – are anticipated to underpin each EV for GM for the foreseeable future.
Issues with the Bolt – the corporate’s flagship mainstream EV – have led the automaker to recall each one of many electrical automobiles since manufacturing started in 2016. Fixing the automobiles, together with utterly changing some batteries totally, is predicted to value $1.8 billion.
That expense – averaging roughly $13,000 per automobile – highlights of venture for automakers planning to make use of frequent platforms or battery cells to energy large quantities of automobiles. If there’s an issue, it’ll be pricey.
It is one of many causes officers all through GM have aggressively been working “across the clock” to repair the problems and guarantee future electrical automobiles such because the GMC Hummer EV and Cadillac Lyriq — two of the primary GM fashions to make use of its Ultium batteries — haven’t got the identical issues. They’re additionally engaged on wi-fi know-how that can allow GM to detect potential defects sooner.
“There is a dedication throughout the corporate to not solely handle the difficulty with the LG cells and the Bolt but additionally guarantee that all the longer term merchandise are arrange for achievement,” Mike Harpster, chief engineer of electrification propulsion for GM, advised CNBC throughout a deep dive into the automaker’s upcoming Lyriq. “There’s not creating the fault or defect, however there’s additionally how the pack and the automobile reply to it. And on each these fronts, we’re transferring very aggressive.”
The automaker’s efforts stretch exterior of its personal group. GM Chief Monetary Officer Paul Jacobson just lately mentioned GM engineers are working with LG Chem, which makes the batteries, to “clear up the manufacturing course of” and implement some “GM high quality metrics” at LG’s crops.
GM on Monday introduced fixes to the manufacturing means of the battery cells in addition to up to date monitoring software program for the automobiles. Each are anticipated for use for future automobiles, Tim Grewe, director of GM’s electrification technique, advised reporters Monday.
GM is pursuing reimbursement from LG, which produced the faulty components at crops in South Korea and Michigan.
New battery crops
The elevated high quality efforts come as GM is constructing a U.S.-based battery cell plant by means of a three way partnership in Ohio with LG Chem called Ultium Cells. It’s the first of several battery plants expected from GM in the coming years.
While the Ultium batteries include new chemistries and production processes compared with LG’s production and cells, GM is taking lessons learned from the current production process, including safeguards and monitoring, for the new plants.
“There are improvements in that process that were learned from the current process,” said Harpster, who was chief engineer of the Bolt EV’s propulsion system. “That’s not only on the cell level, it’s at the module level, the pack level. Everything we’ve done in the past, we’ve done with a partner, LG. All those learnings are going into here to push it to the next level.”
Grewe earlier this month told CNBC that the new production is “not any more vulnerable” than anything the company does today.
“Any contaminant anywhere can cause problems,” he said. “If you look at the battery plants that we have today, there’s all kinds of controls that look for that.”
GM CEO Mary Barra last month said the new plants will be “applying all of General Motors’ quality processes to the manufacturing process,” signaling the company expects better quality controls in place in the new facilities.
“We work every day to make sure that what we’re doing is validated and tested. When we find an issue like this, and this again, happens to be two rare manufacturing issues in the same cell, we’re going to address it,” she said Aug. 4 during an interview on CNBC’s “Squawk Box.”
Barra stressed Ultium is an entirely new battery system, however producing batteries will always be more volatile than assembling a traditional vehicle. The batteries can’t simply be drained and filled up later like automakers can do with gasoline.
“The manufacturing processes are really going to have to be tightened up,” Guidehouse Insights principal analyst Sam Abuelsamid previously told CNBC. “It’s part of dealing with the way batteries behave. They don’t like heat, and they don’t like contamination. They’re very sensitive.”
The Vermont State Police released this photo of the 2019 Chevrolet Bolt EV that caught fire on July 1, 2021 in the driveway of state Rep. Timothy Briglin, a Democrat.
Vermont State Police
The “rare manufacturing defects” in the Bolt EVs are a torn anode tab and folded separator that when present in the same battery cell increase the risk of fire, according to GM.
While GM continues to ensure the manufacturing of the cells are fixed, it may be able to identify such problems sooner with Ultium-powered vehicles.
Specifically, the new battery cells will be able to communicate wirelessly, providing GM with additional data 24/7 to evaluate any problems. Bolt EVs, by comparison, aren’t able to make major updated to their software remotely, and only communicate when the vehicle is running or charging, according to officials.
General Motors revealed its all-new modular platform and battery system, Ultium, on March 4, 2020 at its Tech Center campus in Warren, Michigan.
Photo by Steve Fecht for General Motors
“It’s all over-the-air updateable,” Grewe said. He added the wireless system likely would have assisted the company in determining a problem was present “a little bit faster.”
What the wireless system would be able to do quicker is reset the software of the batteries remotely to lower the risk of fires, he said. Currently, Bolt EV owners having to do it themselves or take it into a dealership to reset the software.
The wireless battery monitoring system, which will be standard on all Ultium vehicles, also can refocus the network of modules and sensors as needed, helping safeguard battery health over the vehicle’s lifespan.