GM digs in with LG to speed a fix for Bolt battery fires

The automaker said it has bought back some Bolts from owners and is reviewing such requests on a case-by-case basis. GM also has said it expects LG to help shoulder the $1.8 billion expense to replace Bolt battery packs.

On Friday, GM’s Jacobson said the two companies are having “high level conversations” about costs, and that GM expects reimbursement.

But the ultimate cost to GM and LG could be even greater. GM is ramping up a $35 billion campaign to launch a new generation of electric and automated vehicles powered by its proprietary Ultium battery technology.

The Ultium batteries GM plans to use in key electric models such as the GMC Hummer EV and electric Chevrolet Silverado are scheduled to be made with LGES in joint-venture factories in Ohio and Tennessee as part of a $4.6-billion investment program.

But following the latest Bolt recall in late August, CEO Mary Barra left open the possibility that GM could find new partners for future battery plants.

GM’s Ultium cells have a different design, size and chemistry than the LG cells in the Bolt and are packaged into modules and packs in a different way.

GM executives also stress that the automaker, not LG, will control manufacturing and quality control for Ultium batteries.

LG and its affiliates have as much at stake as GM, if not more.

The Bolt recalls are not the only ones involving LG batteries. South Korea’s Hyundai Motor Co. earlier this year recalled nearly 76,000 Kona electric cars worldwide to replace defective battery modules after reports of fires linked to LG batteries made in China.

LG’s signature battery technology, a thin and flexible rectangular format called pouch cells, is one of three different battery types used in EVs.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk took a jab at the GM-LG pouch cell technology in a recent tweet, writing that “probability of thermal runaway is dangerously high with large pouch cells. Tesla strongly recommends against their use.” Tesla mainly uses cylindrical cells from several sources, including some made in China by LG.

It is not clear what type of cells LGES expects to produce as part of its plan to invest another $4.5 billion in two additional U.S. battery plants. Switching battery cell technology and formats could slow the investment timetable.

On Friday, LGES told Reuters: “We will continue to win orders and proceed (with) our investment in global markets, including the United States, as planned.”

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