The one reason I heralded the Federal bailout of General Motors was that I had seen some of the technology GM had in its portfolio of the future. I had spent time with some of the brightest engineers inside GM, and I was impressed.
I was happy when the Chevy Volt came to market; a plug-in hybrid the first generation PHEV got 38 EV range miles. The second generation was even better with a 53 EV range miles. At a California Air Resources Board, it was touted that eighty percent of trips in the first generation Volt were EV-only trips, and ninety percent of trips in the second generation Volt were EV-only trips. There was a case to be made for an all-electric vehicle.
While I still think the name, Bolt, is confusing and ill-named, the car technology itself is beautiful. My colleague, Lawrence Ulrich, and I kicked the Bolt around the canyons and mountains of Southern Los Angeles, down through the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), through the cities of Santa Monica. If 33.7 kWh is equal to a gallon of gasoline, we got 128 mpg-e! The drivability of the vehicle is phenomenal.
An aspect of the BEV technology is torque, beautiful, lovely, low-end, all-the-time, anytime you need it torque. The 266 lb-ft of torque doesn't do the car justice; the Bolt has a go-kart feel, careening through the crooks and crannies, the twisties of the terra firma of the ever-changing geology of California. The lightness of being a Bolt is a familiar feeling of the Spark, or the early Minis.
There are thirteen battery electric vehicles (BEV), nineteen Plug-in electric hybrids (PHEV), and three fuel-cell electric vehicles (FCEV) that hold some competition to the Chevrolet Bolt. According to Advanced clean cars more drivers are choosing to use Level 1 charging, even PHEV owners plug into a regular plug instead of the Level 2 240-volt. The Bolt takes 9.5 hours to charge on level 1. Most people will not use more than forty miles per day, but it will be an adjustment.
If I look only at the interior luxury appointment, the Bolt's direct competitors would be the Nissan Leaf, Chevy Spark EV (considered the first generation GM EV at 82 miles range), Fiat 500e, Mitsubishi i-Miev. The next step up in luxury seating would be the Ford Focus EV, Kia Soul EV. The top luxury appointed BEV vehicles would be BMW i3, Mercedes-Benz B250, Tesla Model S, Tesla Model X and the Volkswagen e-Golf.
Only the Tesla can compete with the 238-mile driving range that the Bolt puts out. Tesla has said a Tesla Model 3 will be on the market in 2018, but Teslas are known for a higher level of luxury than a Chevy. It's like comparing a $75,000 V-6 luxury vehicle to a $40,000 V-6 vehicle. The only thing they have in common is the energy package.
There is a leather appointment that you can get in the premium version of the Bolt, but there were no power seats, and the vents didn't fully close in our pre-production Bolt.
This is not a game ender; the first Toyota Prius hybrid connected its air conditioning to the battery. When I came to a full stop in the 110 degree California sun, the air conditioning stopped as well. Rolling the window down cooled the car down to an arid 110. Toyota quickly fixed that issue, but It's an example that the cars are designed by the futurists, concerned with getting the most miles out of the car.
Fifty percent of Volt sales in 2016 are in California, probably about the same for most BEV, PHEVs, and about 100% for FCEVs. Californians are proud of its ability to make car companies dance to a different tailpipe tune. Californians love the good life; the sun, the clean air, fresh everything produced organically. Solar panels are popping up on rooftops across the State. There is a direct cognitive connection with air quality and mental and physical health. We get it.
Unfortunately, California is a driving dichotomy. The San Joaquin Valley, on certain days of the year, can look more like the smog days of Beijing, China. The California Air Resources Board (CARB) has every intention of having only Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) or near-ZEV vehicles on the Golden State highways by 2050. The majority of Californians, twelve percent of the car-buying Nation, agree. It's a slow process, but the better the technology, the more alternative vehicles are sold.
For the practical car buyer weighing an electric versus a gas-powered vehicle, the BEV's higher price is a consideration. If you are going to buy a Bolt the $7,500 tax credit, and a State tax credit make the price more palatable. Charging costs versus gasoline depends on the variable price of gas and whether you can get a tier one cost for charging your electric car. You can talk about the good of the environment, or not stopping at a gas station to fill up, but there is a priceless part of this equation that all early buyers of the Bolt have already considered.
The priceless piece of the equation is access to the HOV lane. Sure you can get in the HOV lane in a gas car if you pick up a couple of hitchhikers, but that ugly little sticker on your electric car bumper gets you access to a fast ride in your private cocoon listening to whatever music, or podcast, you fancy.
I expect, because of ZEV requirements, that Chevrolet will try to sell as many Bolts as possible in ZEV states, mainly California. I expect the Bolt will sell quite well in spite of the misgivings I noted above because I see those issues being corrected before production or in a mid-year change. But more importantly, because the technology is more seductive than the little quibbles that annoy me. The question is, will General Motors bring out another vehicle, perhaps a Buick or Cadillac, with more design and more luxury before Tesla brings out the Model 3.