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The Chevy Bolt:: Is It The Breakthrough EV Drivers Have Been Waiting For?

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On: Thu, Jan 15, 2015 at 2:55PM | By: Bill Wilson


The Chevy Bolt:: Is It The Breakthrough EV Drivers Have Been Waiting For?

All-electric cars are to the automotive industry what Star Trek’s warp drive is to NASA: a vision that promises an oasis from all the limits imposed by current technology. Problem is, the vision may be nothing more than a mirage. Or maybe not, if the new Chevy Bolt lives up to its hype.

Electric vehicles (EVs) have traditionally suffered from two nagging issues. One is limited range; even newer models like the Nissan Leaf travel less than 100 miles on a full charge. The other factor is cost. Who wants to pay off $40,000 plus for a car that has 1/5th the range of a gas-powered model and takes several hours to recharge? Except for dyed-in-the-wool environmentalists who live in urban areas, EVs to this point have had only a tiny market of potential buyers.

That may be about to change, however, thanks to a concept car that Chevy intends to mass produce. Its name, the Bolt, is a clear play on that of Chevy’s much-maligned electric hybrid, the Volt. GM execs plan to unleash production models on the market in 2017. Two features make the Bolt stand out from its predecessors. One is the range, which Chevy says will exceed 200 miles on a full charge. The other is its sticker price: around $30,000 after government incentives. The only EV with a comparable range currently on the market is the Tesla Model S, which sells for $80,000.

To achieve such a breakthrough price and extended range, GM engineers had to revolutionize battery design and manufacturing. They also had to develop lightweight materials that are strong enough to withstand years of driving and find new ways to reduce space and weight.

This doesn’t mean that the Bolt is cramped or uncomfortable, however. There’s room in the prototype version for four adults to ride comfortably, and the same will be true of the production models. The hatchback design saves on building costs and ensures an adequate amount of storage room.

For Chevy, the Bolt is the next step in a journey that began with the introduction of the original Volt in 2010. The car was widely heralded at the time as a revolution in high-efficiency driving. But spotty performance, high sticker prices, and lackluster reviews conspired to make the car a distinct underperformer in the sales department. Widespread stories of the batteries catching fire, though vastly overblown, didn’t help the vehicle’s image.

In many ways the Volt has been a successful failure, however. It carved out a market niche of devoted fans who are already licking their chops in anticipation of the Bolt. Anyone willing to pay $40,000 for what is essentially an over-designed Chevy Cruze will gladly shell out $10,000 less for a full-electric model with greatly extended range, according to GM’s marketing people.

Chevy unveiled the Bolt at the North American Auto Show on January 12th. Initial press coverage has been generally positive. But many observers doubt that an EV will have much appeal to consumers if the current trend towards lower oil prices continues. The future is always uncertain, of course, and any number of factors could combine to send the cost of petroleum into the upper stratosphere. Should that occur, the Bolt and other EVs may finally replace the gasoline engine altogether. As with so many other things, time will tell.

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