Hyundai Motor Co. is being sued over a series of battery fires in its electric vehicles in Asia — specifically in relation to the otherwise-enjoyable Kona EV. Though it hardly seems fair to single out Hyundai when General Motors recently issued a recall encompassing 68,677 electric vehicles with batteries manufactured by LG Chem. Interestingly, Hyundai’s 74,000-strong Kona recall (which includes 11,082 units sold to the United States and Canada) uses the same supplier.
EV fires have become a hot topic within the industry, specifically because it runs the risk of slowing adoption rates and makes the affected automaker look wildly inept. Lawsuits don’t help the matter but Hyundai’s more immediate concerns involve proving that LG is the one that screwed up. While it hasn’t pointed any fingers directly at the supplier, it has dropped subtle hints while LG Chem insists its products are not defective. The duo is reportedly collaborating on an internal investigation into the troubled vehicles — 16 of which have burst into flames in North America, Europe, and Asia.
Last week, roughly 200 people lodged a formal request for class-action status against Hyundai. According to Reuters, they’re seeking compensation for the presumed reduction of resale value and other damages stemming from the recall. They also want the manufacturer to replace the entire battery pack (which would be incredibly costly) rather than continuing to issue software updates. One of the lawyers told the outlet they were initially targeting 8 million won ($7,200) per plaintiff but noted they could increase demands as the trial proceeds.
South Korea’s safety agency is investigating the cause of the Kona fire, and depending on the results, Hyundai and LG Chem could face costs up to $540 million if they have to replace all the affected batteries, analysts reckon.
In a statement to Reuters, Hyundai said the cause of fire is unclear but it suspects that internal damage to batteries may be to blame, adding that it is investigating the case with its supplier and the transport ministry.
Hyundai said it is not considering setting aside money for recalls as it expects its software fix will be able to prevent fires by detecting problems.
“We are constantly monitoring the situation after an update of the [battery management system] and we will continue to try to minimize consumer inconveniences going forward,” Hyundai said.
A LG Chem spokesman said, “We will cooperate with Hyundai Motor and General Motors and sincerely proceed with an investigation to identify the exact cause” of the fire.
This isn’t the first time automakers and battery suppliers have been at odds with each other. Ford and BMW have also recalled vehicles equipped with batteries from Samsung SDI, suggesting the contributing defects were inherent to their design. Unfortunately, the investigations are ongoing and have yet to prove if the batteries were manufactured poorly or that modifications made by automakers are what ultimately made them unstable.
Reuters noted that LG Chem CEO Hak Cheol Shin stated in an interview from last month that its battery systems could have been negatively affected by components made by Hyundai suppliers. But he doesn’t want to accuse anybody until there’s been an investigation into the fires. “As a supplier of a key component of the battery system, we clearly feel responsibility. But until a clear cause would be determined, we can’t come up with measures to address the problems,” he explained.
While the number of EV fires wasn’t terribly out of whack with their gasoline equivalents when this all started, the Kona Electric recall actually has an unpleasantly high number of confirmed fires. The same was true for Chevy’s Bolt. Unfortunately, the default solution has been for automakers to issue software updates that prohibit vehicles from achieving their maximum charge (lowering range). But that doesn’t seem sufficient to give consumers peace of mind, especially when EV fires are particularity explosive, so many of them happened while vehicles were charging overnight, and the issue extends beyond Hyundai and GM.