Chevrolet Bolt concept has 200-mile range

Melissa Burden and David Shepardson
The Detroit News

General Motors Co. is expected Monday at the North American International Auto Show to unveil an electric vehicle concept that gets 200 miles of electric range — a vehicle that could challenge upstart Tesla Motors Inc. — according to two sources familiar with the automaker's plans.

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The concept car is named the Chevrolet Bolt and would get 200 miles or more of electric range and would be sold in all 50 states, according to a person briefed on the plans who asked not to be identified because the plans have not been made public. GM executives have talked about developing a 200-mile electric vehicle for nearly two years, but never confirmed plans to show it or what it would be named.

The new Chevrolet Bolt is expected to retail for less than half the Tesla Model S — around $30,000 — and about what Tesla's future, lower-priced car is set to cost.

The new electric vehicle could be a game-changer for Chevrolet and GM — and the industry — and help demonstrate the company as an innovator in electric vehicles; it's a segment GM has been working on for two decades. It also could give GM an answer to competitor Tesla's Model S, which gets about 265 miles of electric range.

GM spokesman Terry Rhadigan wouldn't confirm the report Friday, saying the automaker wouldn't comment on what he called speculation, but did not deny the report.

With gas prices low, GM's introduction of a new electric vehicle might not be ideal. But a company official says by proceeding, it shows GM is committed to electric vehicles and knows that gas prices will again rise.

In August, GM applied for a U.S. trademark for the name Chevrolet Bolt for a new automobile, government records say.

GM executive Doug Parks told reporters at an event in Warren in September 2013 that GM was working on an electric car that could get 200 miles on a single charge for about $30,000.

Former GM CEO Dan Akerson in March 2013 said GM was working on a 200-mile range electric car.

GM executives believe 200 miles of electric range is enough to convince drivers not to be worried about "range anxiety" — or running out of power before having a chance to recharge.

In 2013, GM formed a special team to study Tesla. "Listen. Like it or not, they think big," then GM vice chairman Steve Girsky told The Detroit News in 2013. "Big in terms of range, big in terms of speed."

Tesla's Model S costs at least $70,000. Tesla has said it is working on a lower-cost EV with a 200-mile range it hopes to release as early as late 2016.

Chevrolet will hold a news conference Monday morning at the Detroit auto show where it has said it will reveal the second-generation Chevrolet Volt. GM has said the plug-in hybrid electric vehicle will have more range than the 38 miles it can travel on with an electric battery before a backup engine takes over, allowing the vehicle to travel a total of about 380 miles.

GM CEO Mary Barra is expected to unveil the Bolt at the Chevy press conference.

Chevrolet currently sells a Spark EV that is certified by the Environmental Protection Agency with 82 miles of electric range. The Spark EV is sold only in California and Oregon.

But GM's timing to unveil a new electric vehicle is less than ideal with gas prices plunging below $2 in much of the country — and demand for more expensive EVs and small cars falling. But by the time the new EV goes into production, gas prices may be much higher.

Barra said this week that the company's strategy isn't changing despite low gas prices. "But over the long term, it doesn't change our strategy at all. We've been working for several years now to make our vehicles from that perspective very efficient; have several new powertrains either out or on their way that are going to be industry-leading from a fuel-efficiency perspective," Barra said. "We are 100 percent committed to driving efficiency across the portfolio. All segments will to do that. So it doesn't change it."

Investors and analysts at GM's Global Business Conference in October were shown photos of the "BEV2," which one Wall Street analyst said appeared to be a new electric vehicle.

Where the vehicle would be built — if it's brought to production — is not immediately clear. But Barra in October affirmed Michigan as the "global engineering base for vehicle electrification." Since 2009, GM has invested $1.82 billion in Michigan related to electrification and the Volt.

This past November, GM announced $200 million in new investment at its Orion Assembly Plant and Pontiac Metal Center to help prepare for a future vehicle. The company would not say what the vehicle is or when it would come, but it's believed to be in addition to the Chevrolet Sonic and Buick Verano small cars that are built at the plant. Some people close to the company believe the vehicle slated for Orion could be a new battery-electric.

And in April, GM confirmed plans to invest $449 million in its Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Plant and Brownstown Township battery assembly facility to build the next generation Volt. The company said then that improvements at Detroit-Hamtramck also will support two other cars. In September, GM said it would build the new Cadillac CT6 large luxury car at the plant in 2015.

Sources then believed the other car may be the Buick LaCrosse or an all-electric Volt.

Gerald Johnson, then GM's vice president of North American manufacturing, said the investment would include $384 million at Detroit-Hamtramck and $65 million at its Brownstown Township battery assembly facility to expand GM's lithium-ion battery production and future battery systems.

According to analysts and some GM employee profiles, the Chevrolet Bolt, known as the "BEV2" internally, is due out by the 2017 model year.

In July, Reuters reported that South Korean battery firm LG Chem planned to supply a major automaker in 2016 with lithium-ion batteries for a new electric car getting 200 miles of range or more.

The Bolt comes eight years after GM introduced the Chevrolet Volt — a stylish plug-in hybrid — at the Detroit show. The vehicle captured much of the attention and became a symbol of GM's technological efforts.

Volt sales haven't reached expectations set by former CEO Dan Akerson: He wanted production to hit 60,000 a year by 2012 and GM at one point set a sales goal of 45,000 in 2012. Total U.S. sales since its debut have surpassed 73,000, but 2014 sales of 18,805 fell 18.6 percent from the year before. The all-electric Nissan Leaf, meanwhile, had 30,200 sales last year in the U.S., up 33.6 percent from 2013.

But the first-generation car for GM also likely wasn't profitable, and pricing around $40,000 kept some people away from dealerships. GM in 2013 cut the price by $5,000 to boost sales.

Detroit Auto Show

■Monday-Tuesday: Press preview days

■Wednesday, Thursday: Industry days

■Friday: Charity Preview: $400 per person, black tie

■Jan. 17-24 public days (9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Jan. 17-24; 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Jan. 25.

■Tickets: Adults: $13; seniors 65 and older: $7; children 7-12: $7: children 6 and under free with a parent or guardian