Chevy Bolt owners live ‘nightmare’ awaiting battery-fire fix

‘Lost Trust’

Sean Graham, a Bolt owner in Toronto, has been tracking fires and counts 19 incidents so far, though GM hasn’t confirmed those are all related to the battery.

“GM has lost the trust of the owners,” said Graham, 42, an information technology professional who oversees a Bolt owners group on Facebook. “Us Bolt owners are the ones who got in on the bleeding edge of this technology. If it wasn’t for us, GM would not be able to become an all-electric company. So GM needs to do right by the owners and make sure that we are made whole.”

Graham says GM has begun to “step up” by calling out battery supplier LG Energy Solution, which was spun off by LG Chem Ltd. of South Korea last year, for manufacturing defects and by promising to replace all defective battery modules. While that and better communication lately is starting to rebuild Graham’s trust, he said it’s too late for a car-buying public that is less likely to pay attention to the brand than to blame all EVs.

“That absolutely is damaging to where we need to be as a society in terms of getting people away from gasoline,” Graham said.

‘Lessons Learned’

GM CEO Barra sees a silver lining in the big recall, by drawing the auto industry’s attention to battery manufacturing just as it ramps up to build millions of EVs in the coming years.

“The lessons learned that we have through this experience are really going benefit the entire industry,” she said in a Aug. 26 interview on Bloomberg TV.

That may be fine for the future but, for now, the Bolt is taking the reputational hit for three recalls in less than a year. Inventory of used Bolts rose 75 percent over the last month, while the supply of other used EVs rose 28 percent, according to Recurrent, a Seattle-based startup that tracks the used-EV market.

“People aren’t avoiding EVs or used EVs in general,” Scott Case, Recurrent’s CEO, said in an interview. “This tells me there is an impact on used Bolts.”

The recalls haven’t diminished Krishnan Anantharaman’s enthusiasm for his Bolt, but he recognizes how it has tarnished his car.

“It used to be a point of pride that you actually drove an electric vehicle and all of a sudden there’s a stigma associated with it,” said Anantharaman, 51, a political journalist in suburban Detroit and a former editor at Automotive News.

Buyback offer

Eric Porteus, 73, is looking to trade-in his Bolt. But because GM doesn’t have another EV on the market yet, any trade-in will likely be for a gasoline-powered car. He’s driving his Bolt very little lately and his daughter will no longer let him transport his grandkids in it.

“I’ve told GM that I’m disillusioned and that I no longer feel safe,” said Porteus, who lives north of Albany, N.Y.

The automaker is buying back some Bolts on a “customer-by-customer basis,” GM’s Flores said.

In Phoenix, Bolt owner Wintle said he’s planning to reject the buyback offer he received from GM, which left him still owing money to get out of the car. He said he’s now considering legal options.

“Financially speaking,” Wintle said, “I believe at this point I’d be better off if my Bolt did catch fire.”

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