Why Is the 238-Mile Chevy Bolt Not Selling Like Hotcakes?

By · April 07, 2017

Chevy Bolt

For all the advances in electric car technology, sales of plug-in cars still represent only about one percent of the new car market. For years, common wisdom suggested that high purchase prices and low driving range were holding back EV sales. But the Chevy Bolt—with 238 miles of range and a post-incentive price around $30,000—was supposed to change all that when it went on sale last December. Unfortunately, that does not appear to be the case.

Despite winning a slew of awards—and wide praise from green car advocates—Bolt sales in 2017 are averaging about 1,000 units per month and inventory is backing up at dealerships. Bolt sales lag behind electric cars like the Nissan LEAF, a car with half its range. The situation has journalists scratching their head about what’s holding back EV sales.

Slate opines, “Adoption curves and take-up rates of new technologies aren’t driven simply by the efficacy of the technology in and of itself.” Slate blames a lack of infrastructure.

The assumption is that long-range EVs like the Bolt still are not useful for long road trips because drivers don’t have ready access to charging stations along major highway routes. Tesla addressed that issue with its proprietary Supercharger network, but it has not yet been tackled by any other automaker.

Superchargers also require Tesla owners to take specific routes to refuel and to stop for longer than drivers of gas-powered cars. But the availability of those chargers has apparently been enough—along with sleek, attractive designs and a powerhouse brand—to make Tesla the number one seller of EVs (even with its big sticker prices).

Chevy doesn’t have the same stellar brand perception—at least not for EVs. Green Car Reports tells readers that General Motors sells more units of its loud, powerful and iconic Camaro than supposedly breakthrough cars like the Chevy Bolt. The website suggests that Chevy dealers might have an easier time selling Camaros because they are perceived as more fun to drive.

In other words, the goal posts keep receding for EVs. They are no longer small, underpowered and lacking in range. They don’t carry huge price tags or look exceptionally geeky. But the perception of them as compromised by lack of infrastructure and inconvenient for road trips is now reason enough to stay on the sidelines.

Mark Duvall, director of energy utilization for the Electric Power Research Institute in Palo Alto, told the San Jose Mercury News, “It takes a long time to change someone’s inherent perceptions about new technology…especially with one of the two biggest purchases people make.”

It’s tough to change people’s perceptions about EVs—even those with a long-range model like the Bolt—when most consumers have not benefitted from the enjoyable experience of owning and driving an EV. So the question remains: How do you convince everyday consumers to give electric cars a try?

Also see: Looking Beyond the Chevy Bolt’s Impressive 238 Miles of Range

Comments

· · 27 weeks ago

The vast majority of GM dealers in the US do not carry the Bolt yet, so it is way too early to draw any conclusions about demand from sales.

But even if Bolts were at every dealer, it is difficult to expect large numbers of sales given that most Americans have no idea the Bolt exists, must less its price and range. Like any other new vehicle, there has to be some sort of method to raise awareness (typically an ad campaign by the manufacturer).

But yeah, general negative perceptions about EVs are still a problem. The majority of US consumers can't name a single PEV, don't know anything about incentives, don't understand that personal benefits even exist, and are confused about how they are used (most owners love their driving characteristics, fueling convenience and low operating costs, but most non-owners assume the opposite: that they will be no fun to drive, inconvenient, and expensive).

Given their base assumptions, most consumers are not going to do any research on the vehicles, because they already think they don't want them. So the misperceptions will go away very slowly unless somebody addresses them proactively. We have to get the cars out in front of consumers - think free test drives in front of shopping malls. A test drive is the fastest way to turn a skeptic arguing about why they can't work in to a potential buyer trying to figure out how to make it work.

· · 27 weeks ago

A major reason for weak sales is Chevrolet's weak sales staff when it comes to EVs. I own a 2014 Volt and I basically had to sell it to myself and my wife because all 3 sales reps at the 3 local dealerships made it sound like we shouldn't buy it! I knew it was a no brainer (we have a local free charging station, my commute is 17 miles one way, we already have a large car and we need a small one etc) and so I knew this was the right decision after my own research, and I have never regretted the purchase in the 3 years of ownership, but trust me all 3 of the GM sales reps had me questioning my decision throughout my purchase in 2014.

I've been anticipating the Bolt release, did a bunch of research, and I have the cash saved up to buy one. I want to make a purchase by 2020 which is basically when I expect my last ICE car to die on me.
Fast forward to last month. I went to a dealership in San Diego to test drive it and the sales rep completely turned me off of the purchase. They basically made a joke out of the car. I was lost for words!

So I guess my point is, analysts can scratch their heads all day, but all they need is to go interview a few sales reps and customers and the answer is right there. I'm not saying that's 100% of the reason for poor sales, but it's gotta be a major part of it. I'm a true EV fan. If you can talk me out of an EV, you WILL talk the average customer out of one.

· · 27 weeks ago

Many persons who can do math who are not making $100K per year, will not consider an EV given they will not get all of the Federal incentives in the US. Shame the law/regulations do not allow the credit to be taken over multiple years as the solar tax credit does. If I purchased a typical EV I would leave 3/4 of the tax credit on the table so my price just jumped THOUSANDS of dollars for an EV above what wealthier persons paid. 8-(

· · 27 weeks ago

There are at least some of us who recognize that GM was the responsible for nimh chemistry not reaching EVs. And, consequentially, will NEVER buy a GM car.

· · 27 weeks ago

It appears that the combination of these two things is creating headwinds for the Bolt:
> a general anti-EV bias in the public (and among Chevy dealers)
>an anti-Chevy/GM bias among the demographic of typical EV buyers

My neighbor just bought a BMW i3 over a Bolt and explained to me that she "just couldn't buy a Chevy."

I'm in the market myself for my next EV and--after driving the Bolt and Hyundai Ioniq back to back--much preferred the drive-feel and interior quality/layout of the Ioniq. I like the design of the VW E-Golf better than either one. The point is: people buy EVs like they buy all cars--based on multiple factors including brand, design, drive characteristics, etc. The arrival of the Bolt is showing that long range alone is not enough to persuade a lot of buyers.

What's intriguing is the success of the Volt. It's obviously also a Chevy, but somehow the sum total of its features is winning customers. It was the second highest selling plug-in car in 2016 and is on track to be the same in 2017.

As Redmond points out above, maybe it's just too early to pass final judgement on the Bolt. Let's see what happens when it's fully rolled out across the nation.

· · 13 weeks ago

My guess is it can't sell because:

1. Style. It looks like Chevy put lipstick on a Sonic econobox. The Volt looks sleek and athletic in comparison. Chevy apparently learned nothing from Tesla's success.
2. Handling/ride. The Bolt handles well for a $20K car, but not for a $40K car. It doesn't even have an independent rear suspension so it's not possible to tune as good a balance between ride and handling.
3. Imminent release of Tesla Model 3, which excels where the Bolt fails, at style and handling/performance.

It's unfortunate because with different design decisions and a little more judicious investment the Bolt could have been a contender. Imagine a sporty CUV EV that handled and performed like a Camaro. It would have beat Tesla to that fertile market niche.

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