Today to correct conjecture that’s nearly been treated as fact, General Motors said its 2017 Chevy Bolt would not be production limited and is “not a compliance car.”
Since last year rumors have perpetuated a notion that GM and supply partner LG Chem have production capacity of only 20,000-30,000 Bolt EVs per year, but this is not true, said Kevin Kelly, manager, Electrification and Fuel Cell Technology Communications.
A belief held by some that GM was not prepared or even serious about competing with Tesla grew following reader comments, reports, and speculations about LG Chem’s Holland, Mich. battery plant capacity, but LG components are being imported from South Korea.
Citing substantial commitment by LG as well as by GM, Kelly denied alleged bottlenecks for the Bolt EV to be produced at GM’s Orion assembly plant.
To date the highest U.S. sales of EVs like the Nissan Leaf and Tesla Model S have barely topped 30,000 but if as many as 50,000 shoppers happened to place orders in 2017, Kelly said Chevrolet could fill them.
“There is nothing constraining us from doing that,” said Kelly when asked how Chevrolet might handle a potential deluge of 50,000 orders that would far surpass conservative analyst projections for the Bolt’s first year of sales.
Kelly’s statement was not a boast but was part of an answer to whether GM was making the Bolt mainly to satisfy regulators while not able to market and sell it in volume. At the same time he declined to make any specific sales projections, say what the maximum production capacity might be, or define a demand tipping point that would require further investments.
In any event, the Bolt EV has made waves among the media and EV enthusiasts since it was first shown in pre-production form Jan. 6 at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas and again this week in Detroit.
The Bolt promises to provide more than 200 miles range once it has received EPA certification, and a price before incentives of $37,500. After a $7,500 federal tax credit and as applicable state subsidies, it may come in around the price of a Toyota Prius.
GM is touting the Bolt as “the first long-range, affordable EV” but GM’s production capability and intent has continued to be challenged in certain quarters into this week.
Kelly’s comment that the Bolt will be nationally marketed and supported and “is not a compliance car” actually echoed that of GM CEO Mary Barra, who introduced the Bolt at CES.
“You can look at the car, and you can buy it just because you love the car as well as the fact that it has a 200-mile electric range,” said Barra in an article by Slate. “This wasn’t a compliance play.”
Comparisons have been made between what the old guard automaker GM can do versus Tesla Motors promising its own 200-plus-mile Model 3 to be on sale as soon as 2017.
Tesla has been called a “disruptive” company and while the term has become a buzz word du jour, GM was called the same last October by Mark Reuss, GM executive vice president of Global Product Development, Purchasing and Supply Chain.
“Chevrolet needs to be disruptive in order to maintain our leadership position in electrification,” said Reuss. “By taking the best of our in-house engineering prowess established with the Chevrolet Volt and Spark EV, and combining the experience of the LG Group, we’re able to transform the concept of the industry’s first long range, affordable EV into reality.”
This is GM’s stance, but some have remained unconvinced. Detractors have commented about details including the Bolt’s aesthetics and design, comparatively slower DC fast charging, and that GM has no Supercharger network as Tesla does.
Whether these voices turn out to be a minority or concerns are otherwise validated or allayed remains to be seen, but many others have also expressed approval for the Bolt. The flat floor compact wagon has been called unique and eye pleasing by observers, and it utilizes space very well being essentially a midsize by volume with 111 total cubic feet.
In response to the charger network concern, Kelly said GM is one of around a dozen automakers committed to the SAE combo connector. Tesla is the maverick with its own standard, and GM has not said it would collaborate on a shared standard, and neither has Tesla in reverse.
Asked about a statement attributed to GM that it could potentially install many more DC fast chargers in short order at its nationwide dealer network, Kelly said he was unaware of any plans while neither confirming nor denying the idea.
LG Electronics has invested over $250 million in Incheon, Korea to support component development and manufacturing for the Bolt’s components.
Components it’s supplying include the motor, power inverter, on-board charger, electric climate control compressor, battery cells and pack, high power distribution module, battery heater, accessory power module, power line communication module, instrument cluster and infotainment system.
Powertrain components like the motor are being built to specification delivered by GM’s engineers and the decision to expand a relationship with LG that’s grown since 2007 came after quality control for its batteries supplied for the Volt proved so high.
GM said out of 23 million cells produced, there were less than two problems per million.
What If Bolt Does Sell Well?
Michigan analyst Alan Baum is projecting only 20,200 Bolt EV sales for year one in 2017 citing factors including limited demand in a country of cheap gas and GM’s track record of marketing electrified vehicles.
Kelly said GM is fully behind the car, and observed 2016 Volt marketing has been a step up from that of the 2011-2015 Volt.
“We have take a more aggressive stance in our marketing and I think we will have a similar stance with the Bolt EV,” said Kelly.
But, we asked, if demand this decade did increase, could GM handle it, or would it relocate powertrain manufacturing to the U.S.? This, Kelly said, would be more a question for LG than for GM.
“The only issue is we signed a development agreement with LG Electronics,” Kelly said, “so our contract with them gives them the priority for production for that particular system, not us.”
LG does not have more than its Holland, Mich. plant for battery cells, and facilities would need to be built or expanded if it were to ever decide to relocate manufacturing proximal to the U.S. point of consumption.
Kelly offered no further comment on these and other hypothetical scenarios, including what maximum production volume could be supported from Korea.
“I’m not going to give you a number that would be a threshold where we’d have to add some potential capacity to our supply base,” said Kelly implying that expansion might be a logical step if Bolt demand increased, “but we have said and continue to support it that we will meet the customer demand for the vehicle so that’s our commitment.”
So what happens next will come down to how the market responds. Soon enough also, the public will see what Tesla has in store, Nissan also is promising a next-generation Leaf with similar price and range, and there will eventually be others.