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Chevrolet Bolt Shows GM Is Serious About Making the EV Mainstream

— January 30, 2017

Electric Vehicle 2A decade ago, the documentary Who Killed the Electric Car? chronicled General Motors’ (GM’s) decision to repossess all of the existing EV1s from the small but loyal group of customers that had been leasing the pioneering battery electric vehicle (BEV). Ever since, skeptics have doubted the company’s true commitment to making BEVs—the Volt had an internal combustion engine, and the Spark EV was viewed by most as a compliance car. Wonder no more, because the 2018 Chevrolet Bolt demonstrates that GM is committed to making the BEV mainstream.

While Tesla has made big promises with the upcoming Model 3, GM has pulled ahead by now delivering Bolts to customers. Sales of plug-in EVs (PEVs) have fallen far short of the projections made when automakers revealed the first wave of modern BEVs at the beginning of the decade. Nonetheless, cumulative sales for Tesla, GM, and Nissan are beginning to approach the 200,000 level that will trigger a phaseout of federal tax credits. When that happens, the effective price for consumers will jump by $7,500, and PEVs will truly have to stand on their own merits in order to attract buyers.

Lessons Learned

As the first dedicated BEV developed by GM since the EV1 in the early 1990s, GM has applied lessons learned from its prior efforts and observations of what has happened with competitors. “The Bolt program was launched more than 4 years ago with a decree from then-CEO Dan Akerson to deliver an appealing car with a 200-mile electric range and $30,000 price point,” said Stuart Norris, managing director of the GM Korea Design Studio. Norris’ design team, along with the engineering teams in South Korea and Michigan, had a clean sheet of paper to work with.

Seeing the global market trends of increasing urbanization, the growth of ride-hailing services, and the rising consumer preference for higher-riding crossover vehicles all helped to define the general form factor of the Bolt. Advances in battery and electronics performance and cost enabled the team to meet their targets.

A comparatively small footprint in line with B-segment models like the Honda Fit means the Bolt occupies less space on the road. At the same time, its tall stance means there is ample room for at least four adults in its 95 cubic foot passenger volume. Smart packaging means it actually exceeds the 94 cubic feet of cabin volume in the much larger Tesla Model S, and it’s easy to get in and out for passengers of ride-hailing services like Lyft, in which GM is an investor.

Practical and Appealing

Performance is a big Tesla selling point, especially the oft-heralded “Ludicrous” acceleration. However, the much larger external dimensions and mass of the Model S mean that it’s not so nimble on twisty mountain roads or as maneuverable in tight urban areas like San Francisco. At half the price of the least expensive Model S, the Bolt doesn’t offer quite the same thrust, but with 200 horsepower and 266 lb.-ft. of instantly available torque, the Chevy still gets to 60 mph in under 6.5 seconds. More importantly, it handles both mountain passes and urban centers deftly, and based on a first drive, use of the low mode with its extra regenerative braking can boost the vehicle’s charge range well beyond the EPA-estimated 238 miles.

The launch of the Bolt and Model 3 has inspired other automakers to rethink their EV plans and boost the planned range to over 200 miles. If everyone can make their EVs as practical and appealing to drive as the Bolt, we may finally see a surge in sales that makes the emissions-free vehicle a mainstream reality.

 

Early Chevrolet Bolts in the Lyft Fleet Could Be Great Marketing Move

— August 16, 2016

Electric Vehicle 2For several months now, pre-production Chevrolet Bolt EVs have been rolling off General Motors’ (GM’s) Orion, Michigan assembly line, and the car is now only about 2 months from being ready for paying customers. However, many of the early Bolts won’t actually be going to retail customers. Instead, they will be offered up to Lyft drivers through the Express Drive rental program.

A Different Model

Given the way Tesla managed to rack up more than 373,000 pre-orders for its Model 3 at $1,000 each, one might wonder why GM isn’t taking a similar approach with the first affordable 200-mile electric car. Unlike the Silicon Valley upstart, GM cannot sell cars directly to consumers but must instead go through its franchised dealer network, so a similar pre-order process would be vastly more complicated, if not impossible.

Even if GM could execute such a program, it’s not at all clear it would work. Tesla and its CEO Elon Musk have built up a remarkable brand in less than a decade, and many of the pre-orders are coming from consumers that want to buy into that brand, just as they buy into Apple when they choose an iPhone over a comparable Android or Windows phone. For many very valid reasons, GM still isn’t taken seriously by many people when it comes to selling EVs, despite the positive reviews garnered by the Chevrolet Volt and Spark EVs.

GM does have a significant time advantage over Tesla and other automakers with the Bolt, and it appears to want to use that wisely with a different sort of marketing approach. Since modern plug-in EVs (PEVs) began hitting the streets 6 years ago, word of mouth and first-hand experience have proven to be very effective means of winning customers. When people actually experience a PEV, they are much more inclined to purchase one.

First-Hand Experience

Getting people to ride in Bolts with Lyft drivers has the potential to provide positive first-hand exposure without having to go to a dealer first. When a customer goes into a showroom having already decided they want to buy a Bolt, they are much more likely to get one. Unfortunately, up until now, many traditional car dealers have tended to steer customers away from EVs and toward more profitable vehicles that they understand better like utility vehicles and trucks. That’s exactly why Tesla insists on selling direct to consumers through company-owned stores, which is not an option for GM or other incumbent OEMs.

If GM can sell consumers on the Bolt before they ever get to the dealership, they may have a much better chance of early success. The mandates to sell zero-emissions vehicles in California and other states will start to ramp up significantly from 2018 onward and the competition will be getting much tougher with the debut of the Model 3; the next-generation Nissan LEAF; and 200-mile EVs from Ford, Hyundai, and others expected.

Navigant Research’s Electric Vehicle Market Forecasts projects global PEV sales of approximately 2.9 million in 2024 with 462,000 in the United States. Through the first 7 months of 2016, Americans have purchased almost 78,500 PEVs, an increase of 20% over the same period in 2015. While Tesla’s financial stability remains very much in question in the coming years as it rapidly scales its production volumes, the company has demonstrated that it is a force to be reckoned with among consumers. GM and the other incumbent OEMs will have to get creative with ideas like the Bolt/Lyft rental program if they are going to both comply with regulatory mandates and maintain or grow their overall sales.

 

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