Hyundai apologizes for Kona EV fires, promises investigation

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Hyundai apologizes for Kona EV fires, promises investigation

Kona's production line in Hyundai Motor's Ulsan factory. [HYUNDAI MOTOR]

Kona's production line in Hyundai Motor's Ulsan factory. [HYUNDAI MOTOR]

 
Hyundai Motor has issued an apology to owners of Kona electric vehicles (EV) after a number of the cars burst into flames, pledging to come up with follow up measures within this month.
 
The text message was sent to customers on Monday, a day after the most recent fire in Daegu. On Sunday, a Kona EV burst into flames while parked in the underground parking lot of an apartment — the 12th reported fire since the model’s launch in 2018.
 
“We express deep apologies for the fires that broke out in several Kona EVs recently and the concerns this caused to our customers,” the company said.
 
Hyundai added that it will complete efficacy tests and share follow-up measures in a separate notice later this month.
 
“Experiments will be conducted to see what the issue is about and test various ways to eliminate that risk. The last step should be verifying if that update works perfectly on all the vehicles,” said the company spokesman.
 
In the past two years, Hyundai had been largely silent about the Kona EV fires, other than communicating individually with the owners of burnt out vehicles. There have also been no official announcements from government offices on what the fires were about.
 
The model is the domestic carmaker’s best-selling EV and the second best-selling EV in Korea behind Tesla’s Model 3. More than 100,000 Kona EVs have sold worldwide since 2018, including around 30,000 sold in Korea.
 
Kona Electric drivers have complained that the carmaker and relevant government offices have been sluggish in defining what the fires were about, consequently causing a delay in rolling out support plans or preventive measures. The ultimate compensation would be a recall, but this is unlikely to come unless there’s scientific evidence that the vehicle had innate defaults in the first place.
 
Kona EVs supplied in Korea use LG Chem battery cells. These cells are supplied to HL Green Power — a joint venture between LG Chem and Hyundai Mobis, the carmaker’s auto parts maker — and assembled into battery packs. Hyundai Mobis then takes those battery packs and adds a battery management system to make them into modules that can be inserted into the vehicle.
 
The question is: Which part of this procedure creates fires?
 
The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport initiated an investigation into the burning Kona EVs in September last year. The state-run Korea Automobile Testing and Research Institute (Katri) is looking into the cases, but a full-fledged report has not yet been released.
 
Lawmaker Jang Kyung-tae of the Democratic Party recently disclosed an interim report from Katri regarding three of the Kona electric vehicles that burst into flames in July and August last year.
 
The organization suggested the issue could be in the battery monitoring system that monitors the high-voltage battery’s internal pressure, resistance and temperature to detect abnormalities. If it doesn’t operate properly, the excessive flow of electricity can create sparks that lead to fires.
 
However, the report failed to pinpoint the specific starting point of the fire in the battery assembly as the collected vehicles “were completely burnt: Insufficient to find the fundamental reason.”
 
BY SONG KYOUNG-SON   [song.kyoungson@joongang.co.kr]

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