Countdown to the Chevy Bolt: The Next Major EV Milestone

By · July 08, 2016


2017 Chevrolet Bolt

The recent EV news cycle has been dominated by chatter about the fatal accident of a Tesla driver who over-relied on the company’s assisted driving system. Hopefully, focus on that disturbing and distracting incident will soon subside, so our attention can turn to what deserves more attention: the release of the first affordable mainstream 200-mile electric car. Reminder: It’s a Chevy.

Tesla is nearly two years away from selling its first relatively affordable model. Keep in mind that the first set of Model 3 units will likely be expensive upper-level variants with price tags well beyond the so-called affordable $35,000 range. In the meantime, now that we’re in the second half of 2016, you can start the six-month countdown to the truly affordable Bolt.

Shad Balch, manager of new product communications for Chevy, in an April interview with the Los Angeles Times, said, “There will be some options, but the base [Bolt] car will have most of our content and connectivity features, including active safety features. That will all be standard from the lower trim level.”

In other words, General Motors is not wavering or hedging on its commitment to its long-standing target price. GM is currently saying that the Bolt will be sold for approximately $30,000, after tax incentives, which are expected to be $7,500. (Besides, there's a strong chance that by the time the Model 3 is in full production, tax credits for Tesla vehicles will be depleted.)

Pause and Reflect

Let’s be clear about GM’s achievement: the Bolt will be the first 200-mile all-electric car offered anywhere near the net price of $30,000. The company is accomplishing this feat about two years before any of its competitors.

That’s remarkable, but what’s mind-boggling is that it only took six years between the time the company first offered the Volt—a plug-in hybrid that babied its 16 kilowatt-hour pack by only using half its capacity—and the introduction of the Bolt, a similarly priced vehicle that utilizes nearly all of a pack that carries a whopping 60 kilowatt-hours of energy.

Yes, there have been improvements in battery chemistry and battery management systems, as well as reductions in cost. But arguably the true breakthrough—gained by GM selling the Volt over two generations—is the human understanding of how people use plug-in cars.

By producing the Volt and studying how people drive and charge, GM confirmed that most drivers only travel about 40 miles on a single day; that they are quite comfortable with charging at home every day; and that what they seek is the comfort of knowing that there’s an abundant surplus of range always left in the car. That might seem obvious to any EV driver, but the auto industry’s products are only beginning to reflect that understanding in 2016.

“Our studies show that 200 miles is the breakthrough point,” Larry Nitz, director of propulsion systems at GM, told me earlier this year. “Our technology has evolved where we can do cars like this that are cost-effective. We did it.”

Nitz’s insight is that an EV with a 200-mile range will very rarely get used to its capacity. If a driver plugs in every day and drives a typical 40-mile commute, the battery will automatically get babied—just through normal driving patterns. Therefore, GM engineers are confident about allowing the vast majority of the Bolt’s 60-kWh capacity to get used because it won’t happen very often. The 200 miles of capacity is available on an as-needed basis, while providing driver confidence all the time.

“If you have a car with 80 or 90 miles of range, your motivation is to find the next charging place,” Nitz said. “Can I plug in at work? Can I plug in at the mall? Where can I plug in? With the Bolt, you forget all of that.” Moreover, he said drivers will forget about range issues even on the coldest days of the year in Detroit, when battery range can be cut in half by frigid conditions.

“It’s a normal car,” Nitz said.

Bingo. That’s the achievement we’re counting down to see become real: a pure battery-electric EV, at $30,000, being thought of as a normal car. When the first Bolt customer takes the keys, that auto industry first will be owned by General Motors and can never be taken away from the company.

Perhaps that’s why the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV this week was placed on the list of 43 models under consideration for the 2017 North American Car and Truck of the Year award. And that’s why long-time EV-denying industry analysts are now saying the Bolt could far exceed sales projections.

Will the car be a smash success? That’s unpredictable. Only time will tell if the overall driving experience of the compact EV is as powerful as the key 200-mile milestone. Its popularity will depend on currently unanswered questions like these:

  • The Bolt is promised to offer the interior room of a mid-size car in the format of a compact, but will it actually feel roomy?
  • GM says the performance specs—200 horsepower, 266 pound-feet of torque, zero-to-60 mph performance under seven seconds—will make the Bolt truly fun to drive, but will it feel spirited behind the wheel?
  • The combination of Drive and Low modes, and a paddle for “regen on demand,” will mean EV aficionados can enjoy single-pedal driving, but will that experience survive final technical tweaks?

Those finer points aside, the introduction of the first plug-in cars—the Chevy Volt and Nissan LEAF—in 2010 was an undeniable breakthrough. Six years later, we’re poised for another one. Get ready.

Comments

· · 33 weeks ago

Two years ahead of any competitor?

Nissan is widely expected to announce their 200+ mile EV probably late this year but certainly earlier than 2 years from now.

· · 33 weeks ago

Least we forget: GM is the company that colluded with Chevron to suppress the EV movement by at least 10 years. I will not be a GM customer.

· · 33 weeks ago

@dm33 Yes, Nissan has been "widely expected" to offer a longer range EV--but what signs do you see that it's actually happening? From company statements, you would get the impression that more effort is being put into a plug-in hybrid. What can you point to that makes you think a 200-mile LEAF will come out as soon as 2017 or early 2018?

@mckemie - GM seems like a very different company than it was during the EV1 days or other ugly chapters from a previous era. For that matter, the entire auto industry has changed its mindset toward electrification. Isn't time to drop anti-GM sentiments from those days, and look to what the company is doing now. Let's give credit where credit is due. What's wrong with encouraging innovation and real zero-emissions product coming to market?

· · 33 weeks ago

While it is true GM behaved badly over the EV1 and the NMh battery patents it should be remembered all other major car manufactures at the time withdrew all their rival electric cars just as soon as the rules changed (within one week). Mind you it was pressure mainly from GM (and big oil) lawyers and lobbyists that got those rules neutered.

As to the Bolt, while I'm sure the collaboration of GM and LG has produced a good 200 mile range car in record time it will not come with DC fast charging capability as standard, nor has GM seen fit to start on a network of fast chargers to compete with the Tesla SuperCharger network or to join Tesla in theirs.
Even with a 200 mile range the Bolt will be just another town car EV without DC fast charging capability as standard or a network of DC fast chargers.
A similar objection applies to the rumoured 200 mile Nissan Leaf at least as far as a network of DC fast chargers is concerned and in fact all known EVs existing or rumoured other than the Tesla (the Tesla Model 3 will not have access to the DC fast charging network without some additional payment or payments though).

· · 32 weeks ago

Wow, this article sounds heavily influenced by GM (bullsh*t) marketing.

1) the Bolt would not be in GM"s plans at all if not for Tesla's commitment to the 200+ mile range Model 3, GM did not come up with that range at all, they were perfectly happy making compliance cars and plug hybrids, give credit where credit is due!

2) GM could have done this years ago instead of fighting against making BEVs. They could have been leading in electric cars, but Tesla is the clear leader.

3) the Bolt is about the size of a Honda Fit, a compact car. Tesla's Model 3 is not nearly that small.

4) the Bolt will not even have DC fast charging capability for long trips...we have thousands of miles of roads in this country and some people travel hundreds of them for vacations and family visits, not to mention road trips.

5) the Model 3 will be in production about one year later (or less), not two.

Keep in mind comparing a Chevy to a Tesla is like comparing a Chevy to a BMW.

The only reason the auto industry is changing is because of the success of Tesla and the 400,000 pre-orders of the Model 3. All the automakers have fought against making BEVs because it will totally change their rip-off-people business model.

We've known since the 1970s that BEVs were the best, most viable "alternative" to ICE. I've been waiting decades for electric cars to go mainstream...GM could have led, but chose to quelch. They use bullsh*t marketing, and claim things are their ideas when they are not. The "Volt" was deceptively named, was promised to have 100 mile electric range and be sporty, it was none of those things, They invented the term "extended range battery electric vehicle" claiming the ICE "backup generator" was the answer to "range anxiety" instead of giving us a car with real electric range...thus the reason Teala came around and made real electric cars. have no respect for GM, and I'm as full blooded American as you can get.

· · 32 weeks ago

While the Bolt might not exactly look exciting, I am truly excited to see it enter the market soon. Yes, GM killed the EV1, they've done nothing to build an interstate charging network, and they and their dealers continue to fight Tesla's direct sales model. On the other hand, the Volt has proven to be a well engineered car that possesses battery longevity unheard of among Nissan LEAF owners. Based on GM's recent track record, I expect the Bolt will be a solid, practical, reliable car. Remember that GM is just another giant corporation. Really, none of the large, established automakers can claim moral perfection with respect to EVs. That they are doing something good with the Bolt is worth celebrating.

Also, while Tesla's SuperCharger network is a strong selling point for me, it should be remembered that a great many Tesla owners never use it, preferring instead to drive an ICE or fly on their long trips. For many EV buyers, simply having a good car for regional driving will be enough to meet expectations. Even so, along certain corridors in North America, there already exist enough CCS Combo chargers to enable long distance drives in a Bolt. Redundancy and reliability can be issues with the current patchwork of CCS chargers, but at least it's possible.

Finally, as for vehicle size and practicality, many will appreciate that the Bolt is a hatchback, compared to the Model 3's limited trunk. Others will appreciate the Bolt's upright posture. On the other hand, the Bolt is significantly less aerodynamic than the Model 3 and this will hurt its highway range, particularly at "real world" speeds.

· · 32 weeks ago

Question ?? Will the Bolt be available in all 50 states ?? I live in central East Florida where for the most part it's an EV desert.. We had to go California to buy the Rav-4 EV and NO EV service in Florida, We are looking at the Kia Soul EV and have to go to Georgia 200 miles away and again NO EV service in Florida..
So will Florida be excluded with the Bolt ???

· · 32 weeks ago

@Mike C: Yes, widely reported that Bolt will be a 50-state car, another example of how GM is treating the small EV like a regular car (not a compliance-based experiment).

· · 32 weeks ago

I am looking forward to the Bolt EV - I plan to ask at my local Chevy dealer about it a little closer to the time they are expected.

This car looks like it will fit my family's needs *exactly*.

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