Hyundai, the South Korean automobile manufacturer, is set to recall 82,000 electric cars globally to replace their batteries following 15 reports of fires involving the vehicles.
Hyundai’s recall is one of the most expensive in history despite the relatively small number of cars involved. This signals how electric car defects could create huge costs for automakers. The recall will cost Hyundai $900 million, which means the average cost is $11,000 per vehicle, a massive amount.
Replacing an entire battery needs a lot of effort, requiring a similar amount of work and expense as replacing an entire engine of a traditional internal combustion-powered car. The cost of Hyundai’s recall is an indication of just how expensive electric vehicle (EV) batteries are relative to the cost of the entire car.
Until the cost of batteries comes down, through greater production worldwide and economies of scale, the cost of making electric vehicles will remain higher than comparable gasoline cars.
Once batteries do become less expensive, as is expected in the coming years, EVs could become much cheaper to build because they have fewer moving parts and require as much as 30 percent fewer hours of labor for assembly compared to traditional vehicles.
The fewer parts on the EVs could also mean that recalls should be less common than for internal combustion-powered cars. But in the near term, there could be significant costs if battery fire problems require battery replacements.
No one was injured in any of the Hyundai fires, many of which took place after the cars were shut off and sitting empty.
Meanwhile, Hyundai said an investigation into the fires showed the cars’ defective LG-made battery cells could short circuit. The recall also covers the Ioniq EV, and Elec City vehicles in South Korea. The recall includes 27,000 Korean vehicles and 55,000 elsewhere in the world.
Fires involving EV batteries are not unique to these vehicles. America’s GM (General Motor) is also recalling an earlier version of its electric Chevrolet Bolt because of fire problems caused by its own LG battery, although a different model than the one triggering the Hyundai recall.
GM is not replacing the batteries in the 68,000 Bolts being recalled globally. Of that total, nearly 51,000 are in the United States. While the automaker isn’t saying how its problem will be addressed, it is likely to be handled with a software update.
Elon Musk-owned Tesla also had a problem with battery fires early in its history, but that was tied to road debris kicking up and damaging the batteries. Most EV batteries are installed across the bottom of the car. Tesla dealt with the problem by adding more undercarriage shielding to protect the batteries.
Hyundai said it is still in talks with battery supplier South Korea’s LG Energy Solutions to determine which company will be responsible for the cost. The Korean Transport ministry seemed to blame LG for the fire problems in its statement on the recall.
But LG’s statement, which said it will cooperate with the Korean Transport Ministry’s ongoing investigation, denied that was the reason for the fires. “The fire was not recreated in the lab test, and the issue was an early mass production problem in Hyundai Motors dedicated line,” said LG’s statement. The company said it “will further strengthen safety in all processes from product plan to manufacture and inspection.”
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