The age of affordable, long-range electric vehicles has begun.
Today at CES, General Motors CEO Mary Barra unveiled the production version of the Chevrolet Bolt, a 200-mile-range all-electric car with a $30,000 price tag after federal incentives.
The Bolt’s electric range is double the range of EVs in a comparable price bracket, and second only to the Tesla Model S among production vehicles. Tesla’s premium sedan boasts a 265-mile range, but comes with hefty price tag starting at $70,000.
“The Bolt EV is truly the first EV that cracks the code of long range at an affordable price,” said Barra. “Who are our customers? Anyone who wants to save time, money and the environment in a car that is truly fun to drive.”
GM’s announcement heats up the competition to make a compelling, long-range, low-cost EV for the masses. Widespread adoption of EVs is viewed by many as the key to a sustainable transportation, through vastly reducing oil consumption and the resulting tailpipe emissions, while creating new opportunities to link EVs with the electrical grid. It’s also an enormous business opportunity.
Elon Musk has made no secret of his aim to accelerate sustainable transport, with Tesla leading the charge. In March, Tesla will unveil the Model 3, its highly anticipated EV with a $35,000 price tag and a range of up to 300 miles. Production of the Model 3 is slated to start in 2017, which puts the Bolt at least half a year ahead, with production scheduled to start this year.
Barra took a direct shot at Tesla by highlighting GM’s dealership network. Tesla is fighting in several states for the ability to sell its cars directly, circumventing the traditional franchise dealership system. In a handful of states, it has lost that battle.
“Confidence means more than just range, it also means scale, including our 3,000 Chevrolet dealerships across the country,” said Barra. “Unlike some EV customers, Bolt EV [drivers] never have to worry about driving to another state to buy, service or support their electric vehicle.”
While GM and Tesla are out front, they’re certainly not the only automakers looking to own the EV space. Nissan, BMW, Daimler, Ford and other major automakers have also ramped up investments in EVs. At the same time, several Chinese-backed companies are also looking to enter the market, such as BYD, Atieva and Faraday Futures.
After teasing of plans to “redefine mobility,” there were high hopes for Faraday Futures to unveil an impressive EV product for the masses at CES this week. For many people, the company’s reveal of a futuristic EV race car concept that’s very unlikely to ever go into production (for good reason) was a major letdown.
The 18-month-old company could still come out with a marketable EV product. But this week’s lackluster announcement shows that it will be tough for companies like Faraday to catch up to and surpass GM and Tesla.
The Chevy Bolt on display at CES 2016. Photo: Julia Pyper
The Bolt brings some particularly interesting elements to the game. For one thing, it feels spacious, which counters claims that EVs have to be small and uncomfortable in order to be efficient.
GM achieved this by designing the vehicle from scratch around the battery, which was produced in partnership with LG Chem. The battery lies flat along the car floor, unlike the Volt battery, which is set up in a “T” shape. The new battery alignment distributes weight evenly across the vehicle, which makes for better handling, and creates space for legroom and storage.
GM also opted for a crossover design with a raised roof, and stripped out unnecessary padding from the sides of the seats. As a result, GM claims the Bolt has the same passenger volume as the Model S.
To further entice buyers, GM has added all kinds of bells and whistles, including a 10-inch color touchscreen, the ability to set up a Wi-Fi hotspot, wireless phone charging, and cameras displaying surround-vision on the center screen to assist with parking. The Bolt is also the first all-electric vehicle to offer Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
“These features are really aligned with our customer that’s more techoriented, but also looking at conveniences — technology that provides them tangible value, that’s not just a gizmo,” said Darin Gesse, Chevrolet’s product marketing manager of electrified vehicles, on a test drive earlier this week.
It’s not just enough to make a long-range EV, he added — “You’ve got to throw everything else in with it.”
GM also equipped the Bolt with a Bluetooth low-energy system that enables the vehicle to sync up with a smartphone. This allows drivers to check their charge status, set climate control and personalize their display screen.
The system was also added with car sharing in mind, said Gesse. Drivers would simply need an encrypted key — issued by a car sharing service, for instance — that would turn their smartphone into a key fob that could control the locks and turn on the car.
GM hasn’t announced when the car-sharing feature will become available, but odds are that the launch date isn’t too far away given GM’s recent $500 million investment in Lyft.
Gesse said he sees the Bolt primarily taking customers away from EV offerings like the Nissan Leaf, BMW i3 and Volkswagen e-Golf. But the car could also start to attract more mainstream buyers.
“There are a lot of customers sitting on the fence thinking 80 or 90 miles isn’t going to work for them,” said Gesse. “But 200 miles is half a tank of gas. I haven’t talked to a single person who says half a tank of gas creates range anxiety.”
More information on the Bolt battery will be announced next week at the Detroit Auto Show. GM is also expected to announce pricing for a fast-charging option, which adds 90 miles of range in 30 minutes.