As automotive manufacturers respond to tougher emission regulation by increasing their electric offerings, a number of them have been hit by a spate of battery safety problems. BMW, Ford, General Motors, and Hyundai have been affected.
BMW and Hyundai are recalling vehicles worldwide to address issues with battery fires in plug-in models.
Ford has delayed introducing its Escape plug-in into the US after fire safety concerns in similar models sold in Europe.
In the US, the Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has launched an investigation into the Chevy Bolt EV after three instances of fires that originated without impacts from accidents. About 77,000 vehicles manufactured between 2017 and 2020 are affected.
Safety regulators say that one Chevy Bolt fire resulted in injury from smoke inhalation. Two of the incidents are alleged to have occurred while the vehicles were parked and unattended. The other three manufacturers have not reported any injuries.
While these incidents remain relatively rare, an increase in the number of EVs on the roads is likely to result in a comparative increase in such events. There is no suggestion that EVs experience a higher rate of incidents than vehicles with internal combustion engines. However, lithium battery fires have proven to be more difficult to deal with.
It has been reported that Hyundai is preparing to recall 77,000 Kona electric cars worldwide. There have been three Kona EV fires reported in a month and 14 reported in total. None of the fires have involved batteries supplied by SK Innovation— used in 12,000 of the Kona EVs shipped to Europe.
On Wednesday LG Chem said it had formed a taskforce with Hyundai to find the root cause of the battery fires. The battery pack, which is made by HL Green Power, is a Hyundai and LG Chem joint venture.
The Ford Kuga has been subject to a recall in Europe as BEST reported in August. The recalled models were manufactured between July 2019 and July 2020. There have been seven cases of fire related to the issue.
BMW has issued a global recall of all of its 2020 plug-in hybrid models due to a battery fire risk. More than 26,000 cars are affected most of which have not yet been delivered to customers.
While there have not been any accidents or injuries reported BMW disclosed that it was aware of four “field incidents”. "The high voltage battery may not have been produced according to specifications," BMW explained in a statement. "During battery cell production at the supplier, debris may have been able to enter one or more battery cells. As a result, this could lead to short-circuit. In rare cases, the short-circuit could lead to a thermal event which could increase the risk of an injury."
The battery supplier in this instance is Samsung. Owners are advised not to charge their cars until a fix has been found.