General Motors Notifies Early Chevy Bolt Owners of Potential Battery Failure

By · August 24, 2017


A 2017 Chevrolet Bolt after an unexpected battery problem that left the car disabled. (Photo: Bradley Berman)

General Motors today began notifying a couple of hundred owners of the Chevrolet Bolt all-electric car about a battery problem that could leave them stranded. In an exclusive interview with PluginCars.com, Kevin Kelly, ‎senior manager for advanced technology communications at General Motors, said that the problem might affect less than one percent of early Bolt production models. The company is proactively reaching out to “fewer than a couple hundred customers” that could be impacted, according to Kelly. The remedy is to replace the entire battery pack, even if only one cell is faulty.

UPDATE: Also See "At Least 100 Chevy Bolt Drivers Have Experienced Complete Loss of Propulsion"

“We noticed an anomaly via data from OnStar and that led us to investigate the issue,” said Kelly. He said that the problem is caused by one or more of the cells malfunctioning and thereby providing a false reading of remaining range on the dashboard. Drivers could then be misled into thinking the Bolt’s battery pack has sufficient energy to complete a trip—only to experience the car run out of charge and abruptly stop.

Personal Experience

How did I become aware of this problem? The faulty battery problem happened to me on Aug. 8. That’s when I was on a routine local trip with the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt Premier that I have been leasing as my personal vehicle since June 16. The car had about 1,700 miles on the odometer.

On that Tuesday afternoon, the dashboard indicated approximately 100 miles of remaining range. (Because I was less than one mile away from home, I did not take note of the exact state of charge.) After a few seconds of a warning chime, the steering wheel shuddered, and the vehicle quickly came to a complete stop in the middle of the road. When I looked down at the dashboard, the indicated remaining range had abruptly changed to nine miles.

The behavior of the vehicle was not like driving an EV with a depleted battery, as I have experienced in other electric vehicles. In those cases—sometimes referred to as “turtle mode”—the power output is reduced, enabling the driver to travel at a reduced speed for a couple of miles or at least safely move to the side of the road before the battery is fully depleted.

Instead, in the Bolt, I was left behind the wheel of a disabled vehicle (in the middle of a curvy road where vehicles often zip around so-called blind corners). The car could be powered up but not shifted into Drive or Reverse. After multiple failed attempts to shift into Drive after restarting the car, I shifted into Neutral and rolled down a slight incline to reposition the car more safely on the side of the road (although blocking a neighbor’s driveway).

As you might imagine, it was an unpleasant experience—exacerbated by poor OnStar service and the tow-truck driver informing me that my Bolt was the third one he had picked up in recent days. The service at the closest Chevrolet dealership, approximately 20 miles away, was also lacking. It took about two days to diagnose the problem because, as the service manager informed me, the dealership only has one EV specialist—and that technician was busy working on other Bolt jobs in the queue (for unspecified repairs). It took nearly two weeks for a new battery pack to be shipped to the dealership and swapped into the car. The service record indicated: “Battery has a bad cell 25.”

It was surprising to learn that my Bolt—which has been performing well since a new complete battery pack was installed two days ago—is considered an “early” production unit. My lease began more than six months after the first sales of the model. In that time, about 8,000 Bolt units were purchased or leased. If one percent of those vehicles have a similar problem, then 80 Bolts could face similar issues. GM’s Kelly, who did not say exactly how many customers will be notified, promised to investigate the exact production date of my Bolt—which could help identify precisely which vehicles are affected.

Comments

· · 4 weeks ago

Wow, this is pretty serious. Please do keep us updated. Hopefully, it is a very specific period of production, or some other specific identifiable thing.

· · 4 weeks ago

Thanks, Neil. I'm hoping that GM shares more information about the problem so drivers can be aware of potential risks. Also, it seems like having the car abruptly halt--rather than going into a limp or turtle mode--is not a good strategy. Maybe that could be a software adjustment. I'll share what I learn here in the comments.

· · 4 weeks ago

2 days ago charging door open warning came on, but it was closed, then anti theft proplusion reduction mode came on and couldnt go more than 30 mph on i5 with big semi behind me. Drove to dealer, they did a check found 30 codes but service writer could not tell me what was done to correct. I think they did a full reset. Bought the bolt last june similar to you. Planning to trade it out when new nissan leaf comes out. Dealership ev culture very poor.

I5 exit 230 washington state Blake chevrolet in Mt Vernon.

· · 4 weeks ago

@Zhukhov. I agree that the Chevy dealership culture is terrible. I would say same thing about GM culture in general. I have not yet heard these words: "We are sorry this happened. How can we make it right for you?" It's not enough to switch the topic to Onstar's ability to remotely diagnose problems.

· · 3 weeks ago

Questions for Brad Berman:
1) What was the build date of your car?
2) When your car shutdown had you already driven for approx 200 miles, meaning the problem was in BOLT EV simply not reporting remaining range properly then as a result shut down abruptly?
(I realize that you didn't check state of charge just prior to the shutdown- per your article)
Thank you

· · 3 weeks ago

@cwwwilsonpa I don't know the build date of my car. That's what I was hoping that my contact at GM could confirm. But he hasn't followed up (as promised) after I supplied the VIN a couple weeks ago.

No, I had not driven the car for 200 miles--and I feel that it's unlikely that the car simply ran out of charge. In terms of how the car shut down, I think it was more likely a software issue or a severe battery failure. In other words, the explanation that the indicator simply showed the wrong number value doesn't match my experience.

· · 2 weeks ago

Wow that is scary. This has the potential to become another (but much, much smaller scale) GM faulty ignition switch disaster.
Nearly two years ago I was the proud new owner of a Tesla Model S (just the cheaper, slower version, a 70D) and I was having difficulties adjusting to the size and shape of the car. On this particular occasion I was determined to reverse into my garage in the minimum number of tries I was capable of (or at least less than the multiple attempts over a surprising long time period that it had taken me to garage my car in its first month).
So I swung the car across my suburban street (almost fully blocking the street), selected reverse, hoisted myself up clear of the seat to get the best possible view through the rear window and then the car stopped with the electric park brake fully on.
I was scared for my beautiful new car and when I was in it I was a bit scared for me also (the car was across the street on a semi blind sharpish bend). Anyway after some major panicking on my part I managed to get to talk to Tesla who walked me through releasing the park brake and with the help of a couple of nice guys the car was pushed back and into my driveway at which point I was able to return to the land of rational thought.
The problem was me in as much as I did not understand that the car had been designed to do this if any 2 of the following 3 conditions existed simultaneously i.e. (i) drivers door open, (ii) no weight on the driver's seat (iii) driver's seat belt not in use. Somehow I had contrived to always have at least two of those conditions true over the time it took to get through to Tesla (about 20 minutes of panic time). Although that full explanation did not reach me until I was talking to a Tesla technician/mechanic. At the time I just learnt not to take my bum out of the seat.
Anyway I'm very glad Brad Berman got through his incident unharmed.
That was a very good write-up Brad.

· · 1 week ago

My wife and I just leased a new Chevy Bolt EV a couple weeks ago, and everything was great until today the battery immediately went from 50% to 0 while my wife was driving on the freeway, and she had 10 seconds to get over to the shoulder and avoid getting hit by cars going 70. She's also 5 months pregnant, so having to wait around for a tow truck in the heat with freeway fumes wasn't great.

She's now being towed to the dealership but is afraid to drive a new Bolt. What at our options here? How should we approach this? Any help is greatly appreciated.

· · 1 week ago

@ddmiller - So sorry to hear that your wife went through the same thing I went through.

Having gone through it, and speaking with GM execs a few times, they will completely replace the battery pack. In the meantime, insist that they give you a loaner, which in my case was a rental from Enterprise. It took them about two weeks to do the swap. (Where are you located?)

I've had my Bolt back for about a month now and no problems. At first, I worried about the problem happening again--but at this stage, it feels like everything is back to where it was before.

GM told me that this is affecting less than 1 percent of owners, so we somehow pulled the bad card. I feel like the company is giving short-shrift to the seriousness of the issue but I'm not sure what else to do. Did they try to contact you in recent weeks to warn you about this possibility?

For now, I would say let them do the repair. Not sure what else can be done but I'm happy to either put you in touch with their communications people or consider other ideas.

· · 1 week ago

Thank you so much for the quick response and all your help. We're in Los Angeles. We weren't notified of any potential problem, but I don't know how we would've been, since we leased it a couple weeks ago. If they're aware of the problem, it's surprising to me that they're still letting dealerships sell these cars. They must not have as much of a handle on it as they claim.

Happy to have our exchange public on the site. Hope it helps this and others' situations.

My wife is afraid to drive this car ever again even if they fix it, given the traumatic experience, so I'm not quite sure where to go from here. She may change her mind over time. We got it to be the primary car for the baby on the way and were encouraged by the strong safety ratings, so that's now a tricky fork in the road for us.

If there are communications people you've had a good experience with and would be comfortable putting me in touch with, I'd love to get in touch with them to help figure out our options. I really appreciate the offer.

· · 1 week ago

I have had no problems with my Bolt that I purchased in July. Today I got an unexpected call from GM, telling me my battery needs to be replaced. They will have a battery shipped to my dealer in about a week, which is when I'm supposed to bring in my car. The woman told me I should just keep the charge above 1/3.

Since reading about your experience, and that of one of the commenters, I am quite nervous about driving myself and especially my daughter.

Tomorrow I will go to the dealer and try to get a loaner car sooner. Or I suppose a rental if I have to.

What do you think of the instruction to stay above 1/3? It seems this would not have spared you.

Is it safe enough to stay in the right hand lane (if I can bring myself to always do that?). There's at least a few seconds of warning or malfunction before it stops?"

· · 6 days ago

@ddeckert - I think it's best to check with GM about how much keeping the car above one-third state of charge will help. Based on my experience and understanding, the low-voltage issue can affect the car regardless of how much juice is in the battery. But again, it's best to follow GM's guidance.

I completely understand why the car would be disconcerting to drive after getting the call from GM. To me, it makes more sense that GM would offer to tow the car to the dealership for repair--and to drop off a loaner car for all the inconvenience and worry.

How the company responds to loyal early buyers of the Bolt will speak volumes about its commitment to electric vehicles.

· · 6 days ago

Today I had a limited window of time to see the dealer, so I went in right when they opened. The service manager I think knew my name from a phone message, but he hadn't had a chance to get up to speed on the issue. His first response was "we just don't have any more loaners." I pressed the issue, and he said he would need some time to speak with higher. So I took my daughter to school, the long (safer) way. When I got back, he was all set to get me a rental!

Upon checking in the Bolt, he had learned that first they had to access the battery and read the serial number, to confirm it was defective, before ordering the new one. I'm not sure how I will handle it if they say.. Oh, sorry, you're good!

I was skeptical when the GM phone rep said the actual work of the replacement would be a few hours. Service laughed and said would be a few days.

Well, so far, so good. I'm sorry for yours and Mrs ddmiller's experiences. But your sharing of them has helped me understand the seriousness of this.

· · 3 days ago

Brad, I had a horrifying experience today. 197 miles range and entering Freeway 85S from Stevens Creek Blvd in Cupertino, CA. It was about 8:15 PM. All of a sudden a warming popped up stating "Reduced Propulsion... " as I was taking the left turn to the Fwy 85S on ramp. Then after 2 secs I lost power. The range indicator on the instrument cluster was spinning down like a slot machine in Vegas... It came down to 12 miles from 197 miles. Now with my wife and 7 year old daughter in the car I was feeling pretty helpless. The car just did not want to move.

I had already read about your 100 miles to 9 miles experience via some autoblog in the internet. So I knew this was happening to me too. With the inertia of the moving car, I was able to enter the Fwy slowly and by the time I got a shoulder space to park it stopped completely. Now nothing happens. 12 miles remaining and it did not move.

Called 911 and AAA. The Highway Patrol was very kind enough to come and stand behind the car with flashing lights.

The tow truck came after 20 mins and towed the Bolt to Momentum Chevrolet in San Jose. Hope something comes up tomorrow.

· · 2 days ago

@mbarooah - I'm sorry that you experienced the same thing that happened to me and others on this thread. Please know that we are in touch with GM Communications folks to try to get the best understanding possible about what the company is doing, first, to avoid having other get into a dangerous situation--and, second, to take great care of customers who were put in harm's way.

I believe GM has the information it needs (from about a week ago) and now we are waiting for an update. Let's use this thread to continue to share information about what happened to our Bolts and how GM is addressing the problem.

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