Bob Tomaine NaturalGasNOW
[Editor’s Note: The Chevrolet Bolt is experiencing many problems but the greatest issue is the lithium needed and the new dependence on foreign supplies EVs threaten to create.]
Everything isn’t rosy in the world of alternative-fuel cars and General Motors’ ongoing problems with its Chevrolet Bolt hint at the dark side of a future in which electric vehicles are forced upon American drivers.
GM is dealing with a recall on the Bolt and on August 30, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced that an earlier recall has been expanded and now applies to all Bolts built from 2017 to 2022, including those repaired under a previous recall. The problem is fire and Chevy explains that “experts from GM and LG have identified the simultaneous presence of two rare manufacturing defects in the same battery cell as the root cause of battery fires in certain Chevrolet Bolt EVs.” But, that’s not the only bad news.
The Detroit Free Press reported on August 30 that the Lake Orion, Michigan plant where Bolts are assembled was idled and likely to remain so until the battery problems are corrected. LG Energy Solutions builds the battery cells and then assembles the battery packs at LG Electronics, according to the article, and a GM spokesman said both the automaker and LG are “eager to fix the problem,” but he was unable to provide a timetable for repairs.
Chevrolet Bolt-owners are going to be inconvenienced, to put it mildly, even if their cars aren’t among the very few – and it really has been a very few – that have burned. They’re being told that until their Bolts are repaired, they should be charged to 90 percent of capacity. That’s not very different from stopping at a gas station to fill up and being permitted to fill not quite to the top. Considering the range of electric cars and the comparatively low number of charging stations, that unusable 10 percent becomes much more important to an electric’s driver than it does to the one who’s driving a vehicle powered by gasoline or diesel.
The NHTSA is also telling owners to charge their cars after every use and for anyone old enough to recall the “energy crisis” of the early 1970s, that brings back memories of stopping at every gas station that was open to keep the tank as close as possible to full. The difference in this case is that “full” means 90 percent of capacity. GM is clear on the latter point, recommending charging “more frequently” and not dropping below 70 miles of range. Combining that 70 miles of unusable range with that 10 percent of unusable capacity adds up to a significant hit, taking the Chevrolet Bolt from its EPA-estimated 259-mile range down to a 163.1-mile range.
To keep matters in perspective, that’s really only an inconvenience. A major one, yes, but it’s still just an inconvenience. It can, however, serve as a preview of what drivers might expect in the dreamy world of all-electric transportation.
While the Chevrolet Bolt’s problems are impacting those who drive them as well as the workers at the Orion plant, the politically correct push to get an electric into every garage has significantly more far-reaching consequences.
Universal use of electric cars would obviously impact power-generation and -distribution systems since they’re cars that need to be charged and systems based totally on renewables are unlikely to be up to the task, meaning whatever might be coming out of a tailpipe would merely be relocated to the top of a smokestack.
The “BP Statistical Review of World Energy” covers lithium production and reserves worldwide, though, and identifies a disturbingly serious problem, namely that the amount of lithium needed for the fabled all-electric highway of the green future would require a great percentage to be imported. Stated differently, the United States’ transportation network would find itself relying on imports and much as during the “energy crisis” mentioned above, things could go very wrong very quickly.
All of that comes down to a simple question about the thinking behind the obsession with electric cars when internal-combustion-engine vehicles using the “explodey-liquid” fuels cited by Dave Rea in an Inside EVs opinion piece rely on an infrastructure that already meets their needs. Add natural gas to the range of available fuels and they grow cleaner without an import problem for their fuels comparable to the import problem with lithium.
Improvements in technology to get those fuels out of the ground have effectively increased supplies, something that only the true visionary would have predicted a few decades ago. The Marcellus Region provides a textbook example of both the greater supply of natural gas and the positive impact that’s had on the area’s economy, but less immediately visible is the reduction of pollutants attributable to growing use of natural gas in vehicles.
Before the future arrives, the pressing need is to take a critical look at electric cars and their practicality today. Bengt Halvorson, writing in Green Car Reports, offers a clear take on the Chevrolet Bolt’s real-world range and while the true believers in electric cars might view it as a hit piece, Halvorson’s experience is probably comparable to what any average driver would find with any average electric vehicle. Halvorson saw that his Bolt’s range was less than expected, which isn’t very different from what drivers of internal-combustion-engine vehicles have known for years thanks to the caveat that says “your mileage may vary.”
With that in mind, the Bolt’s range – currently reduced by the recommended charging procedures – could be even lower than expected, but that’s not a fatal flaw and there’s no reason to fear that GM and LG won’t correct the batteries’ problems. No matter how anyone tries to spin the story, it doesn’t rise to anything above the level of inconvenience, but there’s still the part about the fires.
GM suggests parking Chevrolet Bolts outside “immediately after charging” and not charging them indoors overnight. The Inside EVs opinion piece referenced above states that 19 Bolts have burned as of September 7 and compares that figure favorably to the number of fires in non-electric vehicles. While his description of gasoline- and diesel-powered vehicles as Bolts’ “explodey-liquid brethren” hints pretty clearly at the writer’s overall position, he does make the statement that “Bolt fires generally only occur when parked.” The fact that electric cars catch fire, of course, has nothing to do with whether vehicles powered by “explodey-liquid” catch fire. They do.
The real concerns for the United States are the reliance on imported lithium that would be almost a repeat of the reliance on imported oil and the load that would be placed on the electrical infrastructure. Both are preventable, considering that the positive impacts of expanded natural gas production have proven that neither is necessary.
At GM – Bolt fires aside – green politics and electric vehicles clearly are the priorities and apparently in that order, but maybe the combination has resulted in what was once derided as tunnel vision and often attributed to yes-men. The Chevrolet Bolt’s difficulties are unlikely to change that and in the long run, they’ll be solved. The much greater problem is the green myopia that makes recognizing the obvious so difficult.
[Editor’s Note: I thank Bob for this wonderfully insightful article. We cannot let ourselves become dependent on foreign nations for critical resources. If want clean energy cars we should be going CNG!]
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