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No room for mistakes

26 August 2021

The arrival of practical electric vehicles has ushered in a new era in transportation.

Now we can free ourselves from our guilt-laden ties to fossil fuels when going about our daily movements (no, not those movements).

As a nation, New Zealand has a lot to gain from rapidly converting its transport fleet to EVs. Not only will be reducing our carbon emmissions but we'll also be reducing our reliance on imported transport fuels.

Providing someone wakes up to the fact that our electricity sector is in dire need of kick up the arse, only good will come from the electrification of our transportation sector.

However, there is very little room for mistakes.

Least able to deal with the consequences of making a mistake are the car manufacturers and distributors that are currently working as hard as they can to meet the demand for EVs.

Right out in front of the bunch, at least in terms of media profile and cutting edge technologies, is Tesla.

Tesla have been pretty much single-handedly responsible for the acceptance of the EV as a totally practical alternative to fossil-fueled vehicles.

Starting with their sporty Roadster, released back in 2008, Tesla have shown that it is possible to produce EVs that outperform their ICE peers in terms of acceleration and speed, whilst also providing a useful amount of range. They've also worked hard to show that battery life will not be a limiting factor in the long-term viability of these vehicles.

Since Tesla effectively created the market, a bunch of other players have come onboard with their own offerings.

Nissan, Honda, Ford, GM, Hyundai, VW, Volvo (in the form of Polestar) and a raft of other traditional car makers have, sometimes grudgingly, embraced the EV and are rolling out electric vehicles of their own.

The only major auto-maker notable by their absence is Toyota.

Toyota are not stupid. They've become one of the most trusted and respected car brands in existence. People say "if you want a reliable vehicle, get a Toyota" and this reliability has become their strength. So why are they missing from the EV marketplace?

Could it be that Toyota aren't yet convinced that EVs are the future or that EVs are sufficiently safe and reliable to carry the "Toyota" branding?

I'm not sure. Maybe it's that they spent all their "new tech" budget chasing the hydrogen bandwagon and have nothing left to develop a line of EVs. Maybe they're just asleep at the wheel -- who knows.

However, some of the other auto-makers are starting to feel more than a little pain as a result of their early forays into the EV marketplace.

The perfect example of this is General Motors by way of their Chevy brand.

It seems that the Chevy Bolt has subjected to a massive recall of over 70,000 of the EVs manufactured from 2017 through 2019, for fear that their batteries pose an unreasonable fire risk. The cost of this recall has been estimated at around a billion US dollars which is an enormous amount, even for a company the size of GM. The price of not recalling those vehicles and replacing the defective batteries however, could be much higher, so they really have no option.

The offending batteries are built using cells manufactured by LG in South Korea. As a personal observation, I've never had *any* LG product that I didn't consider to be crap. The LG phone I bought got consigned to the rubbish bin within a couple of months, due to its awful user-interface and tendency to randomly crash (as did the replacement unit so it was clearly a design fault). Then there's LG's attempt to bribe reviewers of its computer monitors to overlook the flaws -- which makes them a less than ethical player, in my opinion.

Sorry but LG is just not a company whose products I would buy if there were other options. As Chevy are learning, that might be a piece of sage advice!

There are concerns that the cost of the Chevy recall could do some significant harm to the company so they're trying to get LG to cover at least some of the costs involved. It will be very interesting to see what the outcome of this is.

The bigger take-away from this is that every EV manufacturer must be prepared to cover the unforseen costs of recalls based on this relatively new technology. Hyundai has recalled Kona models manufactured from 2017 through 2020 "to address a condition with the high-voltage battery system" and even Porsche has had to recall some of its very expensive Taycan EVs after a problem meant they could lose power without warning at highway speeds.

With the battery pack in an EV representing a significant proportion of the total value, any recall involving the replacement of that pack could represent a massive hit to the profits or even survival of an automaker that faces this problem.

Ah, perhaps now I see why Toyota is so late to this party!

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