Chevy touts Bolt EV as electric car for anyone
Palo Alto, Calif. — The 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV is the electric car General Motors Co. is touting for everyone.
Not just for the early adopters and the tech savvy. Not only for those in California, where electric vehicles have a higher acceptance. GM wants you to think of the Bolt EV as mainstream car that just happens to be electric.
“With the price and range (of) this vehicle, this vehicle is ultimately a vehicle anyone can drive,” said Kathy Belsic, advertising and marketing manager for Chevrolet electric vehicles. “It’s not just a great electric car, it’s a great car.”
GM made history by becoming the first automaker to market with an affordable battery-powered car that gets more than 200 miles on a single charge. The Bolt EV offers 238 miles of electric range for less than $30,000 after factoring in a federal income tax credit of up to $7,500 (plus possible state incentives such as $2,500 in California).
The first 579 were delivered in December to customers in California and Oregon.
The Bolt EV is made at GM’s Orion Assembly Plant in Orion Township, but Michigan residents will be the among the last to get the car. Michigan customers will be able to place orders beginning in July when GM opens ordering nationally for the small crossover. Belsic said Bolt EVs ordered then could be in customers’ hands by the end of August or September.
The Detroit automaker is adding Bolt deliveries in Massachusetts, Maryland and Virginia this month, with the crossover expected to arrive in dealerships in New York and New Jersey in March, and dealers in other states continuing to be get them into September. Chevy also has the Bolt EV for sale in Canada, with sales announced for South Korea and Mexico, and the Opel Ampera-e version slated for Europe.
The company said it focused first deliveries on key markets for electric cars, factoring in dealer-readiness (about 40 percent of 3,100 Chevy dealers nationally will offer the car).
Belsic said the average American drives 40 miles a day, meaning the Bolt EV would offer several days of driving before recharging is needed.
“I think EV is going more mainstream now and I think more people are finally realizing, ‘I think I can go purely electric especially now with the 238-mile range and affordable price,’ ” she said.
IHS Markit senior analyst Stephanie Brinley says that the range and seating for five do make it a car for families. But she said not everyone wants a small car and its price tag is still on the expensive side for its size.
“What it can do is move the EV conversation forward into the mainstream more than any EV product so far,” she said.
Chevy chose Palo Alto, home to Tesla Inc., to host journalists on a Bolt drive.
GM said it chose the tech-rich area because EV acceptance is so high here, it offers a mix of city and rural-suburban driving, and because the Chevy Volt — a plug-in hybrid electric with a small gasoline engine that kicks in when needed — is the top-selling Chevrolet in the San Francisco area. California is also the top market for the Volt.
Tesla plans to launch its own 215-mile range electric car by the end of the year for around $35,000 before incentives. The company has received 373,000 paid reservations for the car.
The Bolt could have been introduced as a 100-mile range electric car, offering slightly more range than the now-axed Chevrolet Spark EV, which went 82 miles on a charge. But in 2012 or early 2013, GM Chairman and CEO Mary Barra (who headed product development at the time) and former GM Chairman and CEO Dan Akerson pushed the team to double down and skip the 100-mile target in favor of a 200-mile moonshot.
“We said ‘That’s great, we want, shoot for the 200 mile range, but do it in the time line of the 100,’ ” Barra told The Detroit News in a November interview. “So the team took a breath. But again, that’s where I again go back to the men and women of General Motors. That’s where when once they get a challenge, they accept it and look what they did.”
The crossover was designed in South Korea at the end of 2012 and first shown to GM leadership in 2013, said Stuart Norris, GM Korea managing director of design.
With a flat battery pack on the floor, designers created the car from the inside-out to have a tall and commanding seating position, Norris said. GM also talked with electric vehicle owners and those who might buy one but hadn’t. They tried to address issues such as limited range, expense and storage space, he said.
Potential customers told GM they didn’t want something that looked weird: “Very clearly heard people wanted something that is distinctive, some character, but they didn’t want a science fair project,” Norris said.
Driving on the historic Highway 1 and in the narrow and winding roads of the Santa Cruz mountains, the Bolt EV with seating for five handled well. It offered plenty of pickup (200 horsepower and 266 foot-pounds of torque) for quick acceleration needed for passing or merging onto highways.
GM’s first application of Low Mode took some getting to used to: Toggle the shifter from D to L for more deceleration while coasting and for one-pedal driving that will even bring the vehicle to full stop without using the brake (brake lights do appear, though). Dropping into L slows the car rather suddenly at first, but proved to be a fun challenge to maximize range. Chevy said its engineers found that in regular stop-and-go traffic, one-pedal driving can add up to an extra 5 percent of range back into the Bolt’s battery.
Chevy is offering Bolt EV customers the ability to roll the cost of an electric home-charger into their payment or lease, with the cost adding about $20 a month on a 36-month lease. Installation is extra. An AeroVironment Level 2 240-volt charger is available through dealers for $699.
Chevrolet in late January said it expected to sell about 1,200 Bolt EVs that month; actual sales came in at 1,162. GM has not given a sales prediction for Bolt EV. Analysts predict Chevy could sell around 25,000 Bolt EVs annually.
Volt sales also were strong in January at 1,611, up 61.7 percent from the same period a year ago. Annual Volt sales in the U.S. jumped 60.7 percent in 2016 to 24,379.
Sales of all electric and plug-in electric vehicles in the U.S. jumped 37 percent last year to 159,139, according to InsideEVs, a website that writes about electric vehicles. But that represents less than 1 percent of overall U.S. sales.
Still, Belsic and Chevy are optimistic.
“It is a growing market, there is a lot of anticipated demand,” Belsic said. “I think more than ever people are starting to think, ‘I think I can convert to a pure electric. It can be a vehicle for me.’ ”