Just the idea of a 200-mile-range, mid-$30,000 electric car hoped to be on sale in another 18 months has made the Chevy Bolt disruptive before it even gets here.
First-generation EVs priced in the same vicinity with 76-93 miles EPA-rated range do boast happy customers, but many people are perched on fences, waiting for something like the Bolt to materialize into reality.
The second-generation EV from Chevrolet is expected ahead of a similarly spec’d Tesla Model 3 and Nissan’s next Leaf. What little GM has said about the Bolt is enough to put some buying decisions on hold, make Nissan’s CEO divulge ahead of his PR staff that the Leaf won’t be left behind, and pressure Tesla too.
The four-passenger EV concept since approved for production was introduced in Detroit this January alongside the 2016 Chevy Volt and seemingly out of left field, but we should have known it was coming.
“Am happy to hear that GM plans to develop an affordable 200-mile range electric car. Right target. Hope others do same,” tweeted Musk.
From Down Under
The Bolt concept was a joint effort between GM Australia, GM Korea and GM North America.
Actual construction was at GM Australia’s Port Melbourne-based design studio.
GM’s Aussie location was one of only two GM design workshops in the world said to be capable of doing the job and what it turned out bears not a little similarity to the BMW i3, but is to cost $5,000 less and offer 2.5 times the range.
“The Bolt EV concept is a game-changing electric vehicle designed for attainability, not exclusivity,” said General Motors CEO Mary Barra. “Chevrolet believes electrification is a pillar of future transportation and needs to be affordable for a wider segment of customers.”
General Motors has said almost nothing definitive on actual powertrain hardware.
GM says only that it will leverage lessons learned from the Volt and Spark EV for the Bolt intended as a global EV sold in 50 U.S. states.
But just because GM is playing its hand close to its vest doesn’t mean intrepid EV sleuths have not been working overtime speculating.
Anything is possible, but some of the believed-reasonable guesses include that GM will find a new use for the underworked Spark EV motor with single-speed coaxial gear box and adapt it to the Bolt.
The Bolt’s battery of unspecified kilowatt-hour capacity is believed to be coming from LG Chem, and may be a newer generation chemistry though this isn’t confirmed.
GM has hinted the Spark EV’s motor was meant from the start for more applications, and a truck-like 400 pounds-feet of torque in the subcompact is an unsubtle hint.
Given cars like the Model 3 will be out there, the Bolt needs to live up to its debatable name that rhymes with Volt and the Spark’s motor or one based on it with around 200 horsepower (150 kw) ought to be suitable for respectable 0-60 and 0-30 times.
The Spark EV is good for around 7.2 seconds to 60, and is really zippy to 30 with “instant torque” so the Bolt may also bolt in qualified terms.
One educated guess comes from Silicon Valley software developer Jeff Nisewanger who co-wrote for us what may be the best deep dive into the 2016 Volt’s drive unit and who likes to look up arcane patents and read engineering papers for fun.
Curb weight might be in the realm of 3,700-4,000 pounds he hypothesized. A Nissan Leaf with 24-kwh pack comes in at 3,300 pounds including a 600-pound battery. To do an honest-to-goodness 200 miles EPA-rated range, the Bolt may need 55-60 kwh and that pack could weigh 1,000-1,200 pounds, so do the math.
Is This The Bolt’s Battery Patent?
By Jeff Nisewanger
Companies frequently file patents that they never commercialize but a patent last year was just issued to LG Chem and smells like it could be the basis for the new “200-mile” battery cells that will be used in the Bolt. Or maybe not. But it sure sounds promising.
Basically, LG Chem says it’s figured how to solve problems that Argonne National Labs and failed GM-supported battery startup Envia had with their “layered-layered” lithium-ion NMC cell chemistry.
At issue is the higher the voltage used to charge a battery, the more energy it can store. Today’s NMC cells like the ones used in the first and presumably second-generation Volt can be safely charged to about 4.15 volts – although the Volt uses a somewhat narrower range in order to further improve battery life. Charging higher than that makes the cathode chemistry unstable and leads to poor cycling life.
The new patent claims to allow stable high cycle life with charging up to 4.4 volts. So, a charged battery usage range of 2.5 – 4.4 versus 2.5 – 4.15 volts (voltage goes down as the battery’s usable energy is discharged). It’s unclear how much energy density this adds to these new cells but it seems likely to be 10-20 percent. That’s good incremental progress.
If they don’t use this patent there were several others filed and recently issued to LG Chem that claim to provide similar improvements in energy capacity.
It’s also possible that they could be improving the anode side of the battery by adding some silicon, etc., to further increase overall energy density but that topic isn’t addressed by this patent.
Whether this patent is really used in a Bolt rushed to market is open to question, and GM has not confirmed it will be. It’s actually a bit of a stretch to think it might be applied in automotive products as soon as 2017 but GM is desperate for better batteries and we know from the Envia experience that it is willing to be aggressive about putting new battery designs into production vehicles.
Because the car will be heavier, more weight will require a stronger vehicle structure meaning bigger wheels, tires, heavier suspension, and more driving up the weight.
But, GM may use some weight-loss tricks learned with higher strength steel, aluminum, and various other materials such as were used in the Cadillac CT6.
To make this a more versatile EV, quick charging will be desirable. The 82-mile rated Spark EV charges at a lower maximum DC charge rate of 30-50 kilowatts and the Bolt could benefit from quicker capability. Tesla equips its Supercharger-enabled cars with up to 135-kw capability, and larger battery kwh sizes are capable of higher charging rates and need them to make long distance charging reasonable.
Nisewanger postulates the Bolt battery will have a max charging rate of around 80 kilowatts, but this like other conjecture remains to be proven.
The automotive term in vogue for the Bolt’s body style is “crossover” but you might also just as well say the Bolt will be a hatchback, a box on wheels stylized to look trendy, and with coolness baked in given this EV will be atop its game.
Lots of interior room is gained with very little front and rear overhang a la BMW i3, and gone is any prospect of a giant bulky battery or T-Shape like the Volt has intruding into interior space.
Rather, the Bolt’s battery is to be a flat below-floor design such as other purpose-built EVs employ meaning no middle hump and flexibility for designers to make this a comfortable car possibly even with a three-across rear seat. Although five passengers is not officially verified, GM VP Mark Reuss did mention in a video to reporters in January the flat battery allows “five passengers and utility” space, which the automaker has otherwise pointed out.
“Form and function have never meshed so well together,” said Ed Welburn, vice president, GM Global Design. “No compromises were made when it came to aesthetics and the elements that contribute to the Bolt EV concept’s range, resulting in a unique proportion that’s sleek, efficient and obviously a Chevrolet.”
Unknown for the production Bolt is what specific materials will be used. The concept employs lightweight aluminum, magnesium, carbon fiber and woven mesh. The futuristic and airy design exercise also has impractical elements like pedestal seats that almost certainly won’t make it to production.
We expect some of the swanky design elements will be toned down, but Chevrolet will do its level best at making the car seem as upscale as possible.
Functionally, the vehicle will likely be well contented for a Chevy like the Volt is as GM is discovering higher socionomic strata are attracted to its plug-in cars.
Reported insider claims have set it in the public minds’ eye that the production date is to start October or November 2016 and the Bolt will be a 2017 model year car.
We have heard it from people who should know better this is a date certain projection from the lips of GM, but actually it is not.
When we asked Chevrolet communications rep Annalisa Esposito Bluhm last week whether we’d missed a press announcement or this was rumor being passed off as fact, her answer was the latter.
“Rumor being passed as fact,” she said. “We have not yet publicly confirmed Bolt EV timing or the model year. Stay tuned.”
GM may come along and confirm everyone’s suspicions but like many details it’s holding out for now.
Even the name – Bolt – was at first unsettled and then contested. GM has twice had its trademark application suspended and had to negotiate with Yamaha and contend with the fact that another company wanted the name “Bolt” for a product.
The name is back on track. Some like it, some don’t, some don’t care.
Most importantly is the Bolt is pending and already threatens to sap customers from the Volt which is like a gateway drug to pure EVs and the Bolt with decreased “range anxiety” could be the fix they’ve been waiting for.
It also raises the bar for EVs and threatens to send other automakers back to their CAD-CAM programs.
While newly launched 80-90-mile EVs from Kia, Fiat, Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and others are just gaining traction, they could look like yesterday’s goods as soon as next year when the Bolt EV doubles the range for the same price or less.