These are unusual times in this new electric car era with second-generation EVs threatening to offer conventional car price-for-performance.
First up will be the 2017 Chevy Bolt meeting the new benchmark of somewhere over 200 miles range and sticker price of around $37,500 before incentives.
Of course anyone who’s not been hibernating has also heard of the similarly specified and sleeker designed $35,000 Tesla Model 3 now with more than 325,000 pre-orders at $1,000 apiece paid by eager intenders.
Somewhere also, Nissan has a new Leaf believed to be competitive and being readied. This follow-up to the world’s best-selling plug-in car will be leveraged by Nissan when it’s good and ready to spool up the media circus presently doting over the two EVs in the limelight.
Among these cars, the Bolt has a few advantages, but to balance this a bit, let’s get a couple of its perceptive disadvantages out of the way.
One is the design. A perfectly fine looking car, the Bolt nevertheless does not hope to put on the air of the Model 3, and here is one alluded-to rather odd state of affairs. The Bolt, frankly, is along the lines of an electric Chevy Sonic with some extra frills whereas the Model 3 is along the lines of an electric BMW 3-Series competitor.
Since when was a BMW 3-Series priced $2,500 less than a compact crossover from America’s Bow Tie brand? But such is life at this stage of the game for the only two players in town.
Another perceived issue is the Bolt, while offering DC fast charging, has no nationwide network of Superchargers to offer. GM says it can replenish up to 90 miles range in 30 minutes, or fully charge its 60-kWh pack in nine hours on 240-volt level 2.
Whether these will be serious issues, however, is open to debate. Regarding the looks and design, beauty is subjective – as is brand loyalty and other intangibles involved with buying from GM instead of Tesla – and some will like the Bolt just fine, thank you very much.
Meanwhile, Bolt owners can charge at home and 200-plus miles range means average daily drives may involve little or no range anxiety. You can’t fill your gas car at home, and that much stands to be an advantage. For local driving, the lack of a network of quicker DC charging stations such as Tesla offers will at least be less of an impediment than presently faced by owners of sub-100 mile EVs.
That said, let’s look at a few advantages for the 2017 Bolt.
GM, that maker of so many conventional and profitable cars and trucks, fast tracked the Bolt’s development from concept to production ready with 55 test mules and 1,000 engineers.
As such, it took Tesla’s bait a few years ago, and beat it to market with the spec sheet Tesla has wanted for over a decade – if not the exact design and vision Tesla also brings to the table.
The Bolt has been pre-produced already at GM’s Orion facility, and will be green lighted for sales and production later this year, at least a year ahead of the Model 3, assuming Tesla breaks its streak of missing production deadlines, and makes its Q4 2017 projection.
Buyers determined to get a Model 3 may still plan to do so, but could consider leasing a Bolt in the interim. GM in turn will have the advantage of a head start and can get to work, assuming it’s not already, on its next electrified vehicles, as well as the second-generation Bolt.
The practice run at the factory and massive pool of engineers mentioned speaks to GM’s long years of product development and manufacturing processes.
In the plug-in field, GM has established itself with more than 100,000 plug-in electrified vehicles sold over the past five years and all with a stellar track record. Lessons learned are being applied to the Bolt, GM has said.
This week in a tech dissertation at the Global Battery Systems Lab in the GM Technical Center in Warren, Michigan, its engineers in understated tones were brimming with pride over their EV.
The LG Chem cells in the in-floor battery are the best GM has brought to this application. And, the proprietary 200-horsepower motor attached to the in-house-developed drive unit (electric transaxle) has as high as 97-percent efficiency.
All other systems and design elements were incorporated into a holistically designed car conceived from the ground up as an EV.
The roomy five-passenger Bolt with flat floor and tall ceiling has been touted as making such good use of interior space that it’s like a vehicle two size grades up from what it is on the outside.
Not quite Dr. Who’s Tardis, the vehicle does cater to a desire for crossovers and while not a fashion statement, it is brimming with technology, including a 10.2-inch touch screen with the latest Chevy MyLink, a surround view monitor system, and more.
While the Model 3 will have a frunk and trunk, and Musk said a seven-foot surfboard can be squeezed in, the utilitarian value of a hatchback with seats that fold down to make a larger cargo space may work better for people who place an emphasis on hauling stuff.
Front Wheel Drive
An arguable, if not unequivocal advantage the Bolt has over a base Model 3 is it follows the path many vehicles have with all-around capable front-wheel drive. All things being equal, this is often considered preferable in very slippery conditions. This is mainly because pulling a vehicle with the front wheels maintains direction of travel and control on snow and ice better than pushing it with the rear wheels.
Musk has tweeted the rear-wheel-drive Model 3 “will have great traction on ice due to fast torque response of Tesla drivetrain.”
Unstated is whether this assumes with winter tires installed which always help, and the rear-wheel-drive Model 3 won’t perform as well in those conditions as all-wheel-drive versions, which will cost more.
This said, some of this comes down to driver preference, and to be sure, the two cars are dissimilar in intent.
Further, the Model 3 may be a better driver’s car, but GM also has said the Bolt will be no slouch.
With a low center of gravity, GM said it built the Bolt to offer a fun-to-drive quotient of its own. Its torquey single-speed motor drive is good for 0-30 mph in 2.9 seconds, and says GM, 0-60 is to be less than 7 seconds, with exact number to be announced.
That’s slower than the Model 3 which will run sub-six seconds or better to 60 mph, but the Bolt ought to be engaging enough to entertain within legal limits and then some.
Unique features like regen braking paddle, and one-pedal driving also may make it novel, while GM promises it to be a well-balance package.
Better Odds To Collect Federal Tax Credit
Unless the U.S. Congress grants an extension, the three biggest plug-in electrified vehicle (PEV) sellers in the U.S. – GM, Nissan, and Tesla – are approaching a 200,000 unit cap per manufacturer in the next couple of years or so. After that, the $7,500 potential benefit starts to fade, being cut to $3,750 for two quarters, then $1,875 for two quarters, then zero.
Between Tesla and GM, the Bolt will benefit by being first on sale.
By the beginning of 2017 when Bolt sales are beginning, it’s estimated GM may have used about 123,000-130,000 federal credits, based on PEV sales projections by analyst Alan Baum plus known sales to date.
This could mean GM – splitting sales with Volt and Bolt and possibly other PEVs – may be able to sell only 30,000-50,000 Bolts eligible for the full $7,500 federal credit, depending on how things actually go – but Tesla buyers may be no better off.
Through March, Tesla has sold an estimated 71,610 units out of its 200,000. With Tesla’s 2016 guidance seeing an aggressive stretch goal of Model X and Model S sales, the company wants to increase global deliveries from under 52,000 last year to 80,000-90,000 or so this year.
If Tesla’s U.S. sales this year grow commensurately, that could mean somewhere in the low 40,000 range give or take a few thousand. Assuming continued growth for 2017, by end of that year when the Model 3 is projected, Tesla could have 40,000 more or less credits to split between the Model S, X and Model 3. Assuming Tesla is not late to production, odds are that fewer than 25,000 Model 3 buyers will get the full $7,500 credit before it tapers to half and half again for four quarters after the 200,000 is hit.
We’ve seen no headlines of GM’s “Tesla killer” as were written prior to the Model 3 reveal, and odds are slim anyone would call it one at this stage, as the Model 3 offers much.
Be this as it may, the Bolt has noteworthy advantages, and is on track to take its place in history.
Today Tesla posted to its blog that with 325,000 orders in hand for its Model 3 – which Musk has said will probably sell for an average of $42,000 with options – the past seven days was “the week that electric vehicles went mainstream.”
That could be so, but the Bolt overlaps on several of the same goals and there is more to see over the next few years how this budding drama unfolds.