Since General Motor recalled every Chevrolet Bolt it has built due to the risk of battery fires and warned owners not to park them in their garage, Neil Wintle has found charging his electric car to be “more than a little nerve-wracking.”
The director of a children’s nonprofit near Phoenix spent $2,000 in July to install a charger in his garage, which is just below his bedroom. Following GM’s precautions, he no longer charges his Bolt in his garage overnight and instead juices up on days he’s working from home.
“It’s really kind of disturbing knowing that right below me is a car that could catch fire,” said Wintle, a 42-year-old father of two, who purchased his Bolt nearly a year ago, shortly before the first of three recalls. “This has officially crossed the threshold into nightmare territory.”
GM’s $1.8 billion recall of about 142,000 Bolts comes at an inopportune time.
The automaker is seeking to lead the auto industry’s charge into an electric future, spending $27 billion to deliver 30 plug-in models by 2025 with a goal of going all-electric by 2035. CEO Mary Barra has launched a campaign dubbed “Everybody In” where the automaker uses influencers like “The Tipping Point” author Malcolm Gladwell to try convince car buyers to switch to battery power.
Change-averse commuters are finally starting to show interest in EVs, with 43% of American motorists saying they would consider plugging in over the next decade, according to a recent poll by Morning Consult. President Joe Biden has amped up Washington’s support of EVs, with an executive order aimed at making half the vehicles sold in the U.S. electric by 2030 and proposing $174 billion in government spending to promote plug-ins. Indeed, as the popularity of Tesla Inc.’s Model 3 spreads and well-received models like Ford’s Mustang Mach-E and GMC Hummer roll out, the stage is being set for electric vehicles to flip from niche to mainstream.
But now all that progress is at risk, with 10 Bolts experiencing battery fires that GM has determined are linked to two manufacturing defects in the battery cell. The automaker is still working on a fix, which is why, for now, it’s telling owners not to fully charge or deplete their batteries and to park their car away from their homes. It’s promised to replace every defective Bolt battery module.
“This will absolutely have an impact on people’s desire to go electric,” Greg Brannon, director of automotive engineering with the American Automobile Association, said in an interview. “An auto flambé is not something anyone wants.”
GM says it understands its owners’ frustration.
“We certainly apologize,” said Dan Flores, a company spokesman. “We have hundreds of people at both companies working around the clock to resolve this issue as quickly as possible.”