Meet the Chevy Bolt, the First Electric Car for the Masses
General Motors just beat Tesla Motors in the race to produce a truly affordable electric vehicle with triple-digit range.
Moments ago, GM CEO Mary Barra unveiled the all-electric Chevrolet Bolt at CES, providing the first look at what may be the most significant vehicle the automaker has built in decades. The little EV may look like just another five-door compact, but two figures make it an engineering masterstroke: 200 and 30,000.
That first number is its range: 200 miles on a fully charged battery. That’s a number exceeded only by Tesla, whose cheapest model starts north of $70,000. And that brings us to the second number. Chevy promises the Bolt will cost less than $30,000 after the $7,500 federal tax credit. Together, they make the Bolt the first EV that delivers excellent range at a great price. It is the electric car for the masses.
The Bolt, says Chevrolet chief Alan Batey, “is what we mean by leading, not following.”
Leading, in this case, means winning a race among automakers to produce the first 200-mile, $30K EV. It’s the widely acknowledged point where range anxiety ceases to be a major problem for those interested in driving electric, for a cost less than that of the average new car sold in the US. GM’s most prominent competitor here is Elon Musk, who plans to unveil Tesla’s long-awaited affordable Model 3 in the spring and start production in 2017. VW and Nissan are also working on the problem, though neither has announced specific model plans.
GM’s South Korean team didn’t make any fundamental changes to the concept it showed off a year ago at the Detroit auto show. The interior is surprisingly spacious, given the small external dimensions. This looks like a car you could live with, though we’ll reserve final judgement because we’ve only seen pre-production cars so far.
For now, GM isn’t saying anything about the car’s specs, battery, or recharge time. But based upon what we know about the Bolt’s range and the specs of the smallest pack in the Tesla Model S, which delivers 240 miles, we’re guessing it’s around 60 kilowatt-hours with a recharge time of about three hours. GM also isn’t saying just when the car hits the market, but given that it’s being called a 2017 model, it’ll later this year.
Given that this is CES, GM focused heavily on the car’s tech. Since the Bolt is a halo vehicle meant to highlight the company’s technical prowess, it’s packed with features. That includes a suite of active safety tech, from blind spot warnings to parallel parking assistance and a lane-keeping system.
The rearview mirror displays images from rear-mounted cameras. The 10.2-inch center screen features a 4G LTE connection and what GM calls “EV navigation mapping”—essentially pointing you toward charging stations when you need to power up.
The car recognizes different keys, so it knows if you or your partner is driving, and tunes the radio accordingly. The Bluetooth system pairs with your phone as you approach the car, so once you’re sitting inside, you’re synced up. The connectivity system was established with ridesharing in mind, so you can allow remote access.
If the Bolt doesn’t live up to its promised range and price point, this litany of little features won’t matter—it will be a failure, and a 4G connection won’t save it. But if it delivers, these sprinkles could become crucial. Ideally, customers will never think about the car’s range, because they won’t have to. But things like a good Bluetooth connection, a warning when you’re about to back into a car you don’t see coming, a cleverly placed holder and charger for your phone so you don’t throw it in the cupholder—these are the little things customers will think about and appreciate everyday.
Ultimately, they can make sitting in the car a pleasant, or unpleasant experience. With 200 miles of range for $30,000, the Bolt is potentially revolutionary. With all these features, it’ll be a nice car, too.
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