Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Industry news: Chevy Bolt presages expansion of EV market

This week has been insanely full of automotive news with many major announcements taking place at Cobo Hall during the Detroit Auto Show. Marking the official start of the auto show season for 2015, many manufacturers have used the opportunity to announce seriously bad ass performance vehicles, including the new Ford GT and the long-awaited Acura NSX. However, the most important new vehicle announced during the show is not either of those cars, but rather a much smaller and slower vehicle. Yes, the real showstopper at this year's Detroit Auto Show is the announcement by GM that they are going to build a battery-powered EV with a 200 mile range.

Called the Chevy Bolt Concept, this new vehicle is the first announced competitor to the much anticipated Tesla Model 3. Intended as an affordable EV for the masses, GM has set the bar to deliver a purely electric vehicle with a 200 mile range that will cost less than $30,000 after federal incentives. In states where additional credits or incentives are available, the Bolt would end up costing even less.

The concept vehicle itself has a footprint similar to the Honda Fit or Kia Soul, but with the upright profile of a people mover. This likely means excellent interior space, but may present a challenge to American car buyers who seem less interested in space efficiency. Speaking of that interior, GM saw fit to include a 10-inch touchscreen center console information display wrapped in a fantastic looking interior that most likely will not see production. Outside, the cues from GM's newly announced 2016 Chevrolet Volt are hard to miss and that massive slab of glass serving as the roof panel gives the car a more premium feel, even though that is a feature also unlikely to make it onto the production vehicle. Still the upright greenhouse should provide excellent visibility and the promise of 200 miles of range definitely stands out.

It is unclear when a vehicle like the Bolt would actually make it into production. Tesla's Model 3 is supposedly due out in 2017 and there are rumblings that the next generation Nissan Leaf will see also be targeting a 200 mile driving range on a single charge. The biggest hurdle right now still seems to be charge capacity of the batteries. A car with a 200 mile range will require a large battery pack (a la Tesla Model S) and that does not seem to match with the smaller mid-size or compact car that automakers seem to be producing. As the owner of a first generation production EV, it will be interesting to this segment develop and grow. My Focus EV will be coming off lease towards the end of 2017 and I am looking forward to having options for replacing it with a proper long-range capable EV, especially living in a state where EVs are increasingly popular and the infrastructure to charge them continues to spread rapidly.