We Drive the $30K Chevy Bolt, GM’s Tesla-Walloping Electric Car
For nearly two years, General Motors has promised that the Chevrolet Bolt, its affordable, long-range electric car, would deliver at least 200 miles on a charge and cost no more than $30,000 after the requisite federal tax credit.
Those two numbers are in many ways the Bolt’s raison d’être, because they are widely seen as the key to overcoming range anxiety—the fear of being stranded with a dead battery—and pushing electric vehicles into the mainstream. “The 200-mile mark is huge, it’s a huge thing in customers’ minds,” says Josh Tavel, the Bolt’s chief engineer. “They believe they need it. So we gave it to ’em, in surplus.”
Indeed. The EPA pegs the Bolt’s range at 238 miles, General Motors announced today. I saw even more driving a pre-production Bolt down the California coast from Monterey to Santa Barbara. I put the car in park having added 239.9 miles to the odometer, and the range indicator said the battery had another 23 miles to go.
Nicely done, GM.
Delivering exceptional range is essential to GM’s goal of beating Tesla in the race to deliver an EV for the masses. The Bolt is expected in showrooms within months; Musk & Co. plan to start producing the Model 3 late next year and offer it for around $35,000. Tesla has said the car will offer a range of 215 miles.
What’s really remarkable about the bowtie-badged hatchback is it also tops Tesla’s entry-level Model S 60 sedan, which delivers 208 miles and goes for $50,000. (The Model S P100D flagship offers 315 miles and costs $134,500.)
Granted, it was a warm day, and General Motors mapped the test route I followed, which started with a 100-mile cruise down the coast on Highway 1, where I averaged about 40 mph. Then I spent an hour on Highway 101, zipping along at my typical freeway speed of 70 mph. I had no trouble keeping up with traffic making a 2,000-foot climb through Los Padres National Forest. At no point during the day did I feel I had to back off to save the battery.
Chevrolet’s $30K Bolt EV boasts an EPA-rated range of 238 miles.
The Bolt’s computer told me I averaged 4.5 miles per kilowatt-hour (the electric equivalent to mpg) and that I drained 53.9 kWh from the 60-kWh pack built by LG Chem.
Although excellent range and a reasonable price are the car’s big selling points, the Bolt has other attributes. It hits 60 mph from a standstill in a respectable 6.5 seconds. The styling is sleek, and the car is attractive if not sexy. It does everything you’d expect of a compact car.
The car is remarkably spacious. The wheels are at the corners and the drivetrain is down low, maximizing space. Clever engineering created room in unexpected places. The front seats, for example, are half as thick as conventional seats, improving rear passenger space without sacrificing comfort. “You’re sitting on springs, instead of a pillow,” Tavel says. The car is so roomy that Tavel lobbied the marketing department to use Usain Bolt—who stands 6 feet, 5 inches tall—in advertisements, but apparently Olympic legends are expensive pitchmen.
Still, the Bolt isn’t quite finished, and Tavel picks the tiniest of nits. He’d like to see a tighter tolerance in the gap between the dash and doors, a space I’d peg at about a quarter of an inch. He wants a faster response from the infotainment system when opening Apple CarPlay (the Bolt also supports Android Auto). And he’s got his team tinkering with manufacturing dies to rounding off some of the car’s corners.
But these are finishing touches on what strikes me as an excellent car. GM hasn’t said just what the car will cost, nor has it said how many it might build. The Model 3 is Tesla’s volume play, the car that Elon Musk hopes makes his company more than a niche player. Tesla already has 400,000 orders for the car.
GM, on the other hand, sees the Bolt as a “strategic asset,” says Steve Majoros, Chevrolet’s head of marketing for cars and crossovers, like the hybrid electric Volt and musclebound Camaro. (GM has sold 100,000 Volts since 2010, and sells 80,000 to 90,000 Camaros annually.) Obviously the company wants to sell as many Bolts as possible—and will offer them in dealerships nationwide—but it’s not gonna make or break the company. The Bolt is what the industry calls a halo car, a vehicle meant to show that GM can innovate.
That’s why GM using the car to stock the fleets of Maven, its car sharing service. It sent about a dozen pre-production vehicles to Cruise, the autonomous driving outfit it acquired earlier this year. And Lyft drivers gets dibs in ordering (GM invested $500 million in Uber rival in January). All are uses chosen to get the Bolt, and the great things it says about GM, in front of more people, especially young people.
The Bolt is GM’s fine china, brought out to impress the increasingly important millenials. Still, it’s just about here, and for anyone who takes it home, it’ll go the distance.