With an EPA-certified range of 238 miles on a charge and a base price under $30,000 after tax credits, the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt aims to rewrite the book on electric vehicles when it goes on sale later this year.
The combination of practicality and affordability is a breakthrough for EVs, leaving vehicles like the Nissan Leaf, Ford Focus electric and Volkswagen e-Golf behind and going on sale well ahead of Tesla’s promised Model 3.
“The Bolt makes other automakers’ new electric vehicles obsolete before they even hit the road,” said Eric Noble, president of the CarLab consultancy in Orange, Calif. “GM is about to change customers’ expectations of the range and cost of electric cars. This raises the bar for all other automakers.”
The Bolt has more than double the EPA-certified range of the electric leaf, Focus and Golf. Tesla is believed to be more than a year from offering a car than can match the Bolt’s price and range.
It’s the payoff to a three-year development program the led to the first Bolts rolling off an assembly line in Orion Township north of Detroit right now.
The Chevrolet Bolt engineering team didn’t set out just to beat other electric cars. Their job was to build a great car.
“That’s how you expand a technology from the early adopters to mainstream buyers” said Bolt chief engineer Josh Tavel.
We’re about to find out if he succeeded.
The roomy Bolt is Chevrolet’s bid to shake up the auto industry and convince regular drivers their next car should be electric. The Bolt’s range and price make it affordable and practical enough to compete not just with electric cars, but with family favorites like the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry.
The Bolt will be in dealerships by the end of the year.
A short drive in one of the few Bolts that have been built makes the case for converting to an EV. The five-passenger car is roomy, comfortable, quiet and most of all normal. Driving it feels like driving any other good small hatchback or sedan, despite the fact that it’s battery-powered, and the brakes and drivetrain were painstakingly engineered to recapture energy for maximum range, including a button on the steering wheel that allows the driver to bring the car to a complete halt without touching the brake pedal.
The front seats are “the most highly engineered ever by General Motors,” to save weight without sacrificing comfort, Tavel said. They’re thin and light, with more springs and less cushioning than conventional seats.
“There’s a ton of data that says a 200-mile range is the point at which there’s a big change in the number of people willing to switch to an electric vehicle,” Tavel said as we drove around Oakland County. “It’s all about customer convenience.”
GM developed a new architecture for EVs that puts the battery in a thin sandwich under the floor. That increased passenger and cargo space. It also lowered the Bolt’s center of gravity more than an inch compared to conventional cars, contributing to more responsive handling than the car’s tall profile suggests.
There’s plentiful headroom, an accommodating back seat and more cargo space than most midsize sedans. The Bolt is slightly longer, and much roomier, than a typical subcompact hatchback.
“Before the Bolt, people had to pay $60,000 to $200,000 for an EV that could go 200 miles on a charge,” said John Voelcker, editor of Green Car Reports. “Eighty percent of U.S. drivers travel less than 40 miles a day. The Bolt takes away the major reason people don’t buy EVs and gives the technology a new level of affordability.”
The Bolt is also a keystone of GM’s strategy for autonomous vehicle and ride-sharing services like Lyft and Maven.
The Bolt’s architecture and drivetrain were developed in the Detroit area. It was styled by GM’s design studio in Korea. The Orion plant will build Bolts that will be sold around the world.
“GM’s going to capture a disproportionate part of EV sales with the Bolt,” Noble predicted.
2017 Chevrolet Bolt at a Glance
What: Four-door, five passenger electric car
Mileage: EPA estimated range: 238 miles on a charge
Projected base price: Under $30,000, after tax incentives
Power: 200-hp, 266 pound-feet of torque
Battery: 60 kWh lithium-ion
Cargo space: 16.9 cubic feet
Size: 164.0 inches long, 62.8 ins. high, 69.5 ins. wide, 102.4-in. wheelbase, 3,580-pound curb weight
Top speed: 91 mph, 0-60 mph in less than 7 seconds
Time to charge: Eight hours from empty at 240V, 50 miles in less than two hours. 90 miles in 30 minutes with SAE fast charger.
Key competitors: Nissan Leaf, BMW i3, Ford Focus Electric, Kia Soul EV, VW eGolf Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric
Built: Orion Twp., Mich.
(2016 © Detroit Free Press)