Electric vehicleEnergy

This plant was hailed by GM as a blueprint for its electric vehicle future. Then its batteries blew up

Carol McConkey, an assembly line worker, stood in the center of a crowded factory floor and was amazed at how effortlessly the Chevrolet Bolt is built before GM recalled the whole fleet of its most famous electric car due to fire concerns before her plant was shut down. The nine-year GM employee slipped beneath a car chassis on a vehicle carrier, swung the mechanical arm out, and hammered five bolts into a roughly 1,000-pound battery pack the size of a bathtub.

“It does a great deal by itself,” she said, explaining the automation-heavy method at a General Motors plant that has transitioned from building gasoline-fuelled cars to making electric cars — the first of its kind, which was quickly followed by a second, about a drive down Interstate 75 for a period of 30 minutes. “That’s just a battery which we plug in.”  Its relevance, though, is undeniable. This past summer, McConkey stated, “It’s the core of the car.”

She had no idea that the same portion of the car she worked on would soon be the focus of international attention for another reason: bursting lithium-ion batteries. Hundreds of additional employees were sent home as they wait for a lengthy assembly line shutdown.

Despite regarding the electric vehicle period as practically inevitable — a technical truth accompli — the Chevrolet Bolt issue served as a stinging reminder for the automotive industry that fundamental impediments to manufacturing the cars, particularly their batteries, continue to endanger that future.

In a September interview, Tim Grewe, GM’s general director in charge of the cell engineering and electrification strategy, remarked, “It’s a horrible thing that has happened.” It’s the kind of setback GM can’t afford as it aspires to increase electric car production to 1 million units annually in 2025. By that year, the business hopes to have a worldwide lineup of 30 electric vehicles. During the coming decade and a half, it wants to completely phase out gasoline-powered vehicles.

Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz, and Ford have all stated intentions to go all-electric or mostly-electric, with goals similar to GM’s 2035 target. Electric automobiles – plug-in hybrids, battery-powered vehicles, and hydrogen-fuel-cell vehicles — account for fewer than 5% of new-vehicle sales in the United States today. However, officials and automakers estimate that by 2030, electric vehicles will account for at least 40% of new car sales in the United States. This would be a significant step forward in the country’s greenhouse gas reduction efforts.

The EPA proposed tighter fuel-efficiency criteria this month, aiming to get the country closer to that target by 2026. The new norm is expected to result in electric cars earning approximately one-fifth of the market share by then.

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