The 2017 Chevrolet Bolt is destined to become the first moderately priced electric vehicle with the battery capacity to soothe the range anxiety of mainstream buyers. GM projects 320 kilometres in good weather and recharging to 80-per-cent capacity will take 30 minutes on a 240-volt system.
"Truly the first EV that cracks the code because of long range at an affordable price," chief executive Mary Barra said while presenting a preproduction model, at the Westgate Hotel last week.
Code cracked or otherwise, EVs are up against it in the marketplace, with gasoline prices hovering around $2 (U.S.) a gallon in the United States and anywhere from 80 cents to $1.40 a litre in Canada. Therefore, said Josh Tavel, the Bolt's chief engineer, his team needed to make the car fun to drive and more spacious.
"Where do we go with this car?" Tavel said in an interview as he recalled the initial conception process. "We worked through a number of options to figure out what's best. We've got awesome customers – that's not just a line – and got a lot of input from them. Ultimately, this is what we were able to come up with."
On a short test track during the CES, the car demonstrated a smooth ride and ample zip coming out of turns onto straightaways, enough to stoke confidence of its ability to aptly handle ubran traffic. At Detroit's auto show this week, Chevrolet revealed further details about the powertrain. Running on a 60-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack, the single motor produces 200 horsepower, good for a zero-to-96-kilometres-an-hour spurt in about seven seconds. Chevy's first electronic precision-shift system sends signals to the drive unit to manage power and torque, based on the driver's mode selection and use of the accelerator.
"You usually have a battery cell that delivers either the desired levels of energy or power, but not traditionally both," said Gregory Smith, Bolt EV battery pack engineering group manager.
It's comfortable, sized similarly to a Honda HR-V with about 17 cubic feet of room in the back, good for a set of golf clubs and gym bags. Making it bigger than its older brother, the electric/gas Volt, "absolutely" presented a major challenge. "There's a lot of innovation in this car," Tavel said. "Just the rocker, for example. Notice how we're stretched it up to the A-pillar. The A-pillar is pretty important to the structure of the car. Getting all of that to work … the thin seats. Let's make them comfortable, let's not let them squeak and rattle, of course, but there's a totally different feel which we'd never thought about before."
It's loaded with modern infotainment features and a full range of safety mechanisms including Cadillac's rear camera that streams an 80-degree image into the rear-view mirror.
Moreover, without actually dropping the word "Tesla," Barra emphasized the company's vast dealer network for servicing and purchasing, in contrast to the unnamed company's business model of storefronts and regional service centres.
So, zero emissions, smooth ride, good zip, convenient network and a class-beating price. Yet, the zillion-dollar question in an environment of low gas prices is whether customers will walk through those dealership doors in pursuit of anything other than gas-powered luxury sedans, sport utility vehicles and pickup trucks.
GM will list the vehicle at $37,500 (U.S.) before rebates. Canadian MSRP isn't set yet – the Bolt goes into production late this year – but due to the lowly loonie, straight conversion would zoom the cost to about $52,000 (Canadian) here – or about twice the price of your regular gas-powered compact SUV, thus stretching the definition of "moderate."
The U.S. federal government provides a $7,500 (U.S.) rebate for zero-emission vehicles, while the Canadian government offers no rebate. The Bolt is aimed at buyers in California, which adds further rebates depending on personal income (as of this March); Ontario and Quebec provide up to $8,500 (Canadian) in rebates for EVs, but taxes on the purchase price would add around $7,000.
"You can't predict what's going to happen to gas prices," said Alan Batey, head of Chevrolet for North America. "Three years ago, you wouldn't have predicted what happened in 2015."
Prior to making the preproduction model available for test drives, Pam Fletcher, GM's top engineer for EVs, said research shows buyer interest jumps when the range reaches 240 kilometres.
While waiting for the personal-buyer market to evolve, GM sees potential for sales in ride-sharing services, not least Lyft, in which the company invested $500-million (U.S.).
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