– Feb. 24th 2021 6:33 pm ET
After some fires, Hyundai will replace batteries in all Kona, Ioniq EVs, and Elec City buses. GM owners wonder if they’ll get the same thing, while most have faith in a software fix.
As we broke the news last week, Hyundai has now officially announced that they are going to replace all their LG batteries in:
- 75,680 Kona EV electric cars
- 5,716 Ioniq electric cars
- 305 Elec City buses
It would appear that the Ioniq hybrids have been spared.
This is following a rough six-month period. There have been 15 reported cases of Kona EV fires, including 11 in South Korea and two in Canada. While a temporary software fix was applied, its efficacy was questionable; another Kona with the fix caught fire just last month.
Until Hyundai can replace the battery, they are recommending to owners not to charge past 90% capacity. If this sounds familiar, it’s because GM did the exact same thing with the Bolt EV.
Hyundai breaks their silence
We praised Hyundai for this initiative and reached out for comment. They replied back with an official statement:
Hyundai Motor Company has decided to voluntarily recall certain Kona Electric, Ioniq EV, and Elec City vehicles in Korea for full battery (BSA: battery system assembly) replacements. The decision reflects findings from an investigation led by the Korean government, which has revealed the possibility of short circuits in certain defective battery cells produced in LG Energy Solution’s Nanjing plant leading to fires.
Actions will be taken promptly to prevent any customer inconvenience and the company will continue placing its utmost priority on the safety of its customers. Similar announcements will be made for affected vehicles in other markets, in compliance with local regulations and guidelines.
Hyundai’s official statement on the matter
What is to blame?
Unfortunately, Hyundai would not provide any details as the cause or rollout scope. We expected an announcement last Friday; they will now wait for the Korean transport ministry’s probe into the issue to be completed. The suspicion is the cell separators are to blame – read our previous coverage for an in depth analysis.
The battery replacements are expected to be worldwide. However, as we previously reported, that it could take up to one to two years to source and replace all affected batteries.
LG Energy Solutions (LGES), the LG Chem division that builds the cells, is being spun off. They have redirected criticism for the issue back to Hyundai, claiming that the battery cell is not the cause of the fire. Instead, they insist, Hyundai misapplied LG’s suggestions for fast-charging logic in the battery management system.
Who’s gonna pay?
It seems like the two companies may be locked in a protracted battle over cost sharing of the recall. One can assume that they might involve the cell separator manufacturer as well.
The estimated cost to Hyundai is about 1 trillion won ($900 million USD, $1.13 billion CAD). That is less than previous estimates, which were double that. Perhaps Hyundai and LG have already settled on a 50/50 split; unfortunately, the exact details are likely to be kept secret.
Setting a precedent in the industry
LG’s deflection is somewhat to be expected; if they admitted fault, they would likely be on the hook for other maker’s replacements as well. Regardless, this is likely to create an expectation in the industry for battery replacements.
GM is still facing their own recall, but has opted instead (at least at the moment) for a software fix. Hyundai’s decision to replace the batteries stands in start contrast to this. However, if the previously reported cause (cell separators) is actually the case, that may be why. GM has informed us that they do not use the same separator as Hyundai. This may explain why GM is convinced that a software fix can be enough.
A tumultuous time
GM is at a very fragile point in its history right now. The company just announced its refreshed Bolt EV, and brand new Bolt EUV. GM has committed to going all electric by 2035, with 30 new vehicles expected by 2025. They simply can’t afford any mistakes right now without losing billions in the future.
Hyundai has also just announced their new Ioniq 5 lineup. While the specs look impressive, the price is sure to match.
Interestingly enough, these two announcements may serve as complementary instead of competitory; they will likely serve different price points and segments. Both GM and Hyundai are very committed to their electric future. This is definitely a difficult thing for them to be doing right now. We can hope that stepping up to replace all battery packs will build loyalty and instill faith in Hyundai’s brand.
GM owners seem to have faith
An informal poll on the Chevy Bolt EV and EUV Owners Facebook group paints an interesting picture. Nearly 700 people have responded over three days, although this was before Hyundai announced their replacement decision. Despite some early Bolt adopters being very vocal and demanding replacements, 58% are ok with having a software-only fix. Another 24% would like to have more information before making a decision. While not a formal poll, this does strongly indicate something. As long as GM can give a satisfactory explanation of how they are fixing the problem, at least 80% of owners will be ok without battery replacements.
That’s the crux – can GM give a good explanation? Will that be enough? Will they compensate owners?
The 80% satisfaction could easily slide down to 50/50 if GM isn’t open with their owners. Either way, unless there’s some financial compensation, GM will have created animosity amongst their owners while Hyundai is taking the higher road.
It’s great that Hyundai is stepping up and going ahead with the replacements, and they should be applauded for this. Despite LG’s explanation, it’s unlikely that so many platforms (including their own stationary battery products) would all have systematic charging issues. Occam’s razor surely applies here: LG’s cells are the common factor. It’s a big hit for Hyundai to take for something that ultimately wasn’t their fault.
While the EV market is small, early adopters have been very understanding that they’re, effectively, on beta platforms. Owners have put up with a lot of bumps along the way. It’s nice to see a company rewarding their owners with new batteries. This should alleviate the concerns and extend the life of their vehicles.
Either way, hopefully this will close the chapter on these battery fires. As long as no more occur, we can hope for smooth sailing into their all electric futures.
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