200-Mile Chevy Bolt Is Praised as First Mainstream Electric Car

By · January 09, 2016

Unveiling of Chevy Bolt at 2016 CES

The unveiling of the Chevrolet Bolt at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week was widely viewed as a watershed event in the evolution of electric cars. It signaled the rapidly approaching availability of a $30,000 car that can provide 200 miles of driving range. The Bolt is expected in late 2016. It’s not surprising that EV fans—who have been anticipating (and in fact clamoring for) battery-powered cars with more range—were excited. The lasting importance of the Vegas event could be the warm reception from mainstream media and automotive press.

When the Nissan LEAF was introduced in late 2010, the mainstream media was nearly unanimous in its derision. According to reporters from newspapers and car magazines, Nissan’s battery-powered car kept getting stuck on the side of the road, was a dud to drive, and was just plain ugly. What a difference five years makes.

Car and Driver, which featured an image of the 2011 LEAF on the back of a flatbed truck (as if stranded) in its inaugural review, described the Bolt as a “revolutionary electric car.” Despite only a few minutes behind the wheel in a parking-lot course at CES, where speeds did not exceed 35 miles per hour, the publication opined, “The steering wheel delivers quick reactions on-center, and the weight builds nicely with higher cornering speeds.”

Car and Driver delivered the highest praise a car magazine can give an EV: that it didn’t look like one. GM succeeded, it reported, in its goal of making its upcoming EV look and feel like a normal car. “The Bolt is smooth, nearly silent, and spacious.”

The Wall Street Journal quoted Kelly Blue Book’s Karl Brauer, who said, “The Chevrolet Bolt represents the first serious electric vehicle available to mainstream consumers.” The price of the Bolt, at about $30,000 after federal tax incentives, is about $5,000 to $10,000 more than the current crop of electric cars that offer around 80 to 90 miles of driving range. While those cars are commonly appraised as lacking enough value for mainstream buyers, the Bolt—based on its 200-mile range—was assessed by Brauer as a “new benchmark in alternative-fuel options.”

In the automotive world, optics often matter more than real-world practical considerations. So we didn’t see an evaluation of the differences between a 100-mile electric car, which can provide more than sufficient service to common commuters, and a 200-mile EV that can go beyond common commutes without recharging. Maybe it’s good for the EV cause that mainstream outlets are not fully considering what’s required for taking the Bolt on regional road trips.

Unveiling of Chevy Bolt at 2016 CES

Using today’s Quick Charge technology (Tesla Superchargers notwithstanding), a pit stop for a 200-mile electric car (with its much bigger battery pack) will take longer than the commonly quoted “about 30 minutes to recharge the battery to 80 percent of its capacity.” In addition, the number of SAE Combo Cords that will likely serve the Bolt are not nearly as readily available today as the CHAdeMO stations compatible with the Nissan LEAF.

There’s no doubt that a 200-mile electric car will virtually eliminate range anxiety for every use except an interstate road trip. That’s a major victory. The practicality of long-distance highway trips aside, let’s hope that GM has indeed “cracked the code to take electric cars mainstream,” the company’s stated goal.

Moreover, we can hope that GM is so encouraged by the warm reception—a year ahead of sales—that it immediately amps up production numbers. What a shame it would be if the company ultimately deems the Bolt yet another car meant for compliance only. That’s the impression that Alan Batey, Chevrolet’s chief, gave in Las Vegas when he said, “There are certain states in the US where you need to sell electric vehicles if you’re going to be able to sell your total portfolio. As part of that, we have a need to have a range of electric vehicles.”

EV shoppers can take solace in knowing that GM is not alone in its pursuit of an affordable 200-mile EV. If it doesn’t come through with the Bolt, we can expect the likes of Nissan, Audi or Tesla to make good on their promises.

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