Brightdrop recall not down to inherent battery risks

Manufacturing flaw with small gear component the primary cause, NHTSA says

Brightdrop recall not down to inherent battery risks
GM delivered nearly 500 Brightdrop EVs in 2023

Detroit automaker GM has been forced to recall 66 of its Brightdrop EV600 electric delivery vans after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) flagged them as fire risks.

The recall, however, should not fan the flames of anti-EV rhetoric that aims to paint EVs as fire risks. The NHTSA has confirmed that the fires were caused by the battery casing being breached by an ill-manufactured drive pinion, a small metal gear in the powertrain, and not by a commonly touted fire cause like battery short-circuits.

"GM has decided that a defect which relates to motor vehicle safety exists in certain 2022 model year Brightdrop EV600 vehicles," the NHTSA note says.

"GM’s initial investigation indicates that these vehicles may contain a manufacturing defect that, in heavy-duty cycle use conditions, can allow the drive pinion to cut its way through the outboard side of the drive-unit case. If this occurs, it can result in an oil leak that, in heavy-duty cycle use conditions, can lead to an under-hood fire," the document continues.

GM first reported a front-drive fire on a Zevo 600 EV in early December, and opened a product investigation later that month after a second fire occurred less than a week after the first. However, the fires were caused by the pinion piercing the battery casing, and not a battery that is in itself unsafe.

While reports of EV fires make for popular reading among EV sceptics, Brightdrop's fire incidents can be attributed to manufacturing error rather than any inherent fire risk in EVs or their batteries. The NHTSA documents confirm that "GM previously investigated the drive units in these vehicles and determined that a manufacturing error in a specific build window may have produced out-of-specification hardware in the front-drive unit".

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GM delivered 497 Brightdrop electric vans in 2023, including 483 Zevo 600s. The 66 EVs affected by the recall are estimated by NHTSA to make up approximately 5pc of the Zevo 600 fleet on US roads.

The OEM sells Brightdrops in the US and Canada, and was aiming to take them to Mexico by the end of 2023. In November, GM brought Brightdrop into the parent organisation, having previously allowed it to operate autonomously.

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