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The Chevy Bolt recall is burning up what’s left of GM’s EV good will

General Motors plans to introduce 30 new electric vehicles worldwide by 2025. However, over the last few years, the world's largest automaker has once again squandered the advantages it had in the still-emerging field of electric vehicles, this time through bad politics, bad investments, and, most recently, a massive recall of the Bolt — the company's only all-electric vehicle — as a result of approximately a dozen reported fires.

On Thursday, General Motors announced that it would be extending the Bolt's production shutdown until the middle of October because it had been unable to convince battery supplier LG to produce replacement batteries that were up to par. As a matter of fact, GM has recalled every Bolt produced up to this point, a total of nearly 150,000 vehicles. It is possible that some vehicles will only require specific modules to be replaced, while others will require the entire battery pack to be replaced.)

In the meantime, General Motors gave Bolt owners yet another thing to worry about this week when it advised them to park at least 50 feet away from other vehicles on the road. These recommendations are in addition to previously provided information, which includes parking away from their homes, charging only when necessary, not charging above 90 percent, and not letting their vehicle's battery discharge to less than approximately 70 miles of range.

All of this has combined to make owning a Bolt a stressful and confusing experience, despite the low likelihood of a fire occurring. In some cases, owners have attempted to persuade General Motors to buy back their Bolts, which the company has done in some cases, only to be turned down. From November 2020 until the present, the company has provided infrequent updates on the recall situation. In fact, it wasn't until May 2021 that General Motors announced its first attempt to fix the problem (which ultimately failed), and it wasn't until July of that year that the automaker finally admitted there was a problem in the first place.

Despite the fact that this has been a complicated recall, Chevy has been working to provide customers with information as quickly as possible, according to Kevin Kelly, who is in charge of the company's public relations team, who spoke to The Verge via email. Despite the frustration that our Bolt EV owners have been experiencing over the past few months, we are committed to doing the right thing for our customers, and we recognize that we must complete the recall repair process correctly the first time.

According to him, "We are continuing to make progress and will work as quickly as possible to notify owners when we have new information to share."

When it was introduced in 2016, the Chevrolet Bolt was supposed to help the company achieve a couple of goals: establish GM as the first automaker to compete with Tesla in the mass-market, long-range electric vehicle segment, and also make everyone forget that the company had once held a brief lead in this category with the Chevrolet EV1 — before it so completely abandoned its fledgling electric vehicle that it literally crushed most of the remaining units.

It was effective for a time. The Bolt has never been a blockbuster, but it has consistently been one of the most competent, capable, and reasonably priced electric vehicles on the market over the last half-decade.

However, while General Motors was making only modest progress on the road, the company began working against that progress in the capital. When Donald Trump was elected president, General Motors was first in line with its Detroit counterparts when the White House opened its doors to the public. They reportedly lobbied the president just days after his inauguration to loosen the Obama-era clean car standards in order to make it easier to sell more profitable (but more harmful) SUVs and pickup trucks.

Trump took that inch and stretched it out to a mile and a half. A far more drastic rollback of one of his predecessor's crowning climate achievements was attempted by his administration over the course of the next few years, but it was a spiteful and shoddy attempt that failed miserably.

Some of those automakers, such as Ford, eventually realized their mistake and reached a compromise agreement with California regulators as the legal challenges to Trump's decision grew more numerous. However, General Motors responded by joining the Trump administration's defense, and it was only after Trump was defeated in the election that the company reversed course. Despite California's waiver to the Clean Air Act, the company claims it only sided with the Trump administration because it shared the belief that the federal government should have the sole authority to set national standards for emissions or fuel economy (which Trump fought to to revoke).

While General Motors was putting its reputation at risk for the sake of constitutional posturing, the company began making financial decisions that were equally questionable. First and foremost, it used its influence to support the burgeoning electric vehicle startup Rivian. A significant investment from General Motors was demanded in exchange for exclusive rights to the technology that would power Rivian's electric pickup truck and SUV. Rivian politely declined, and then went on to raise more than $10 billion from investors such as Ford and Amazon on its way to an initial public offering (IPO) that could see its value soar to nearly $100 billion — all without agreeing to an exclusivity agreement with Google.

Then, under intense public pressure from the Trump administration, General Motors agreed to sell a recently-closed plant in Lordstown, Ohio to a brand new electric pickup truck startup called Lordstown Motors, which was run by a man who had recently resigned from his position as CEO of another unproven EV startup, Workhorse. GM also invested in Lordstown Motors by purchasing a small stake in the company and participating in the investment portion of the startup's merger with a special purpose acquisition corporation. As part of the agreement, GM even had the option of appointing a board member, which it ultimately declined to do.

Shortly after, General Motors announced a partnership with hydrogen-electric trucking startup Nikola, which was working on its own pickup truck project at the time. In late 2020, however, Nikola's founder and now former CEO was accused of (and later indicted for) allegedly lying about a significant portion of what Nikola was capable of, and the situation quickly deteriorated. GM abruptly withdrew its support. This year, the founder of Lordstown Motors was subjected to similar allegations and was ultimately fired. Lordstown Motors, on the other hand, is still owned by General Motors to a small extent.

General Motors has already re-established its good standing with the Biden administration. And in a few years, when electric Hummers and Silverados are cruising the roads, powered by the company's next-generation battery pack, few will remember the company's involvement in two dubious startups, or the automaker's failed attempt to corral one of the most promising electric vehicle startups to emerge on the market in recent memory. These were the kinds of metaphorical fires that are typically easier to put out than other types of fires.

It's possible that the Bolt's problems will last longer than expected because this time the flames are actually burning.

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