Chevy Bolt batteries were catching fire, and now there’s a class action lawsuit

Technology

A class action lawsuit was filed against General Motors alleging that the Chevy Bolt’s battery is “prone to burst into flames.” The lawsuit comes on the heels of GM announcing that it was recalling 68,000 Bolts over a malfunctioning battery.

The lawsuit, which was filed in Northern District of Illinois, claims that the Bolt’s battery is defective and dangerous. Specifically, when the batteries in the electric vehicle are charged to full, or very close to full, they pose a risk of fire. The lawsuit accuses the company of fraud, negligent practices, and “knowingly introducing defective vehicles into the marketplace and defrauding consumers across the country.” The plaintiffs are seeking monetary damages.

There have been at least five incidents of fires involving Bolts with fully charged or almost fully charged batteries, the Detroit News recently reports. Three of those fires are under investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which oversees vehicle defects. GM has found two reports of injuries due to smoke inhalation. GM issued a recall for 68,667 Chevy Bolts on November 13th.

While the investigation continues, GM said it has developed software that will limit vehicle charging to 90 percent of full capacity to prevent future incidents. Chevy dealerships have been tasked with updating their customers’ vehicle battery software beginning on November 17th to limit the maximum state of charge to 90 percent.

The plaintiff’s attorneys argue that the software patch renders the Bolt less effective. “GM’s only purported ‘fix’ to reduce the risk of fire is a software update that limits the maximum state of charge to approximately 90 percent battery capacity, thereby reducing the amount of mileage that these vehicles can otherwise travel on a full charge,” the attorneys said in a statement.

The plaintiffs also accuse GM of exaggerating the Bolt’s capabilities. The automaker says the Bolt’s battery capacity is 60 kWh, while the plaintiffs claim it is actually 57 kWh. The lawsuit was filed by Bolt owner Andres Torres and seeks to be certified for class action status.

“We are in the midst of executing a safety recall on certain 2017-2019 Chevrolet Bolt EVs,” a GM spokesperson said. “We are not going to comment on any related litigation.”

GM, which owns Chevy, Cadillac, and GMC, is the latest automaker to issue a voluntary recall due to battery defects. Last year, Audi recalled over 500 E-Tron SUVs, the company’s first all-electric car, because of a risk for battery fires. China’s NIO recalled nearly 5,000 of its ES8 electric SUVs after multiple reports of battery fires surfaced in 2019.

There’s no evidence that electric vehicles catch fire at a rate that’s any different from internal combustion cars, but the topic has received increased scrutiny as more EVs hit the road. First responders are even being trained to handle EV battery fires since they can’t be extinguished via some traditional methods.