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.

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