200-Mile Chevy Bolt Is Praised as First Mainstream Electric Car

By · January 09, 2016

Unveiling of Chevy Bolt at 2016 CES

The unveiling of the Chevrolet Bolt at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week was widely viewed as a watershed event in the evolution of electric cars. It signaled the rapidly approaching availability of a $30,000 car that can provide 200 miles of driving range. The Bolt is expected in late 2016. It’s not surprising that EV fans—who have been anticipating (and in fact clamoring for) battery-powered cars with more range—were excited. The lasting importance of the Vegas event could be the warm reception from mainstream media and automotive press.

When the Nissan LEAF was introduced in late 2010, the mainstream media was nearly unanimous in its derision. According to reporters from newspapers and car magazines, Nissan’s battery-powered car kept getting stuck on the side of the road, was a dud to drive, and was just plain ugly. What a difference five years makes.

Car and Driver, which featured an image of the 2011 LEAF on the back of a flatbed truck (as if stranded) in its inaugural review, described the Bolt as a “revolutionary electric car.” Despite only a few minutes behind the wheel in a parking-lot course at CES, where speeds did not exceed 35 miles per hour, the publication opined, “The steering wheel delivers quick reactions on-center, and the weight builds nicely with higher cornering speeds.”

Car and Driver delivered the highest praise a car magazine can give an EV: that it didn’t look like one. GM succeeded, it reported, in its goal of making its upcoming EV look and feel like a normal car. “The Bolt is smooth, nearly silent, and spacious.”

The Wall Street Journal quoted Kelly Blue Book’s Karl Brauer, who said, “The Chevrolet Bolt represents the first serious electric vehicle available to mainstream consumers.” The price of the Bolt, at about $30,000 after federal tax incentives, is about $5,000 to $10,000 more than the current crop of electric cars that offer around 80 to 90 miles of driving range. While those cars are commonly appraised as lacking enough value for mainstream buyers, the Bolt—based on its 200-mile range—was assessed by Brauer as a “new benchmark in alternative-fuel options.”

In the automotive world, optics often matter more than real-world practical considerations. So we didn’t see an evaluation of the differences between a 100-mile electric car, which can provide more than sufficient service to common commuters, and a 200-mile EV that can go beyond common commutes without recharging. Maybe it’s good for the EV cause that mainstream outlets are not fully considering what’s required for taking the Bolt on regional road trips.

Unveiling of Chevy Bolt at 2016 CES

Using today’s Quick Charge technology (Tesla Superchargers notwithstanding), a pit stop for a 200-mile electric car (with its much bigger battery pack) will take longer than the commonly quoted “about 30 minutes to recharge the battery to 80 percent of its capacity.” In addition, the number of SAE Combo Cords that will likely serve the Bolt are not nearly as readily available today as the CHAdeMO stations compatible with the Nissan LEAF.

There’s no doubt that a 200-mile electric car will virtually eliminate range anxiety for every use except an interstate road trip. That’s a major victory. The practicality of long-distance highway trips aside, let’s hope that GM has indeed “cracked the code to take electric cars mainstream,” the company’s stated goal.

Moreover, we can hope that GM is so encouraged by the warm reception—a year ahead of sales—that it immediately amps up production numbers. What a shame it would be if the company ultimately deems the Bolt yet another car meant for compliance only. That’s the impression that Alan Batey, Chevrolet’s chief, gave in Las Vegas when he said, “There are certain states in the US where you need to sell electric vehicles if you’re going to be able to sell your total portfolio. As part of that, we have a need to have a range of electric vehicles.”

EV shoppers can take solace in knowing that GM is not alone in its pursuit of an affordable 200-mile EV. If it doesn’t come through with the Bolt, we can expect the likes of Nissan, Audi or Tesla to make good on their promises.

Comments

· · 47 weeks ago

Nice article, Brad. And I certainly agree about the differences in press coverage. Amazing. But I guess we have to see what happens when Top Gear get's their hands on one to be sure!

>> the number of SAE Combo Cords that will likely serve the Volt are not nearly as readily <<

I'm certain this was meant to say "Bolt" - I wonder how much more of this type of confusion we can expect.

And yes, this QC concept is one of the big sticking points for me. Two huge problems with current DCQC: Lack of agreed-upon standard, a bleak history AND future for public infrastructure. I own a 2011 Leaf with CHADEMO that's never been used! And I live in an area that's considered to be "flooded" with these things.

And then there's Tesla. You'll notice that when any discussion starts up about road trips with EVs, the caveat needs to be made that we aren't talking about Tesla - the one car maker that built out the infrastructure themselves. In massive quantities, and with significantly higher charge rate than anybody else is even talking about. Pair this new Bolt with a better name, and a real chance of quick-charging, and it truly would be a game-changer in my book.

· · 47 weeks ago

Spot on, Darell.

(I changed the V into a B. Those keys are next to each other on the keyboard dammit.)

I leased a 2011 LEAF for three years, and used the CHAdeMO three times. I now have a 2014 RAV4 EV without QC, but with 120 miles range, and don't miss a quick charger even in the least.

Bigger batteries mean bigger range but longer charge times. Minus very accessible very fast quick-charging, the game is not changed. I just can't see myself re-routing a trip maybe 15 or 20 minutes out of the way in order to sit at a charger for 30 or 40 minutes in order to add 150 miles or range. It's hard to write this without sounding like I'm throwing a wet blanket on a car like the Bolt. But trips from, say, SF to LA don't appeal to me giving these terms. I'd probably fly. And I consider myself an EV enthusiast.

I think mainstream buyers are smart enough (or will discover soon enough) that EVs are fantastic for 90+ percent of driving even at, say, 120 miles range. If you plan to take trips longer than that on a frequent basis, to me, the Volt (with a V) or something like it, makes more sense. Or perhaps a car that can use biofuel.

All this said, if those 200 or 300 miles of range give a lot more consumers enough comfort and confident to go EV, regardless of whether all the kilowatt-hours are used, then bring it on.

· · 47 weeks ago

My comments are tremendously colored from recently having my way with a P90D for 24 hours. I drove from Sacramento to the coast where I shucked countless fresh oysters for my wife on Tomales Bay. We returned home on the empty, country backroads. And I did it mostly like a teenager who just stole the car... 'cept the part where I let the car drive itself of course. I put 300 tough miles on that car in one day, and stopped at two SuperChargers that were both no more than three blocks off my intended route. Ten minutes at one while I bought coffee. 20 minutes at the other while my wife shopped in Vacaville. If I owned that car, a trip to LA for me would require no miles out of my way, and would require one meal stop at Harris Ranch. And I'd probably make up excuses to take that trip.

From that experience, and staying up to date on the deployed and planned SuperCharger sites, I can tell you with some confidence that a 200-mile car with access to the SuperCharger network suddenly becomes the ONLY car I need for all of my driving. Without convenient, genuinely-fast charging availability I'd still need the hassle of renting, or the expense of owning a second car for the 1x or 2x monthly road trips.

My 2002 Rav4EV was at the lower end of the range I need for our typical local travels. We used it for over 90% of our trips (it is currently being refurbished). The Leaf simply can't compare. Yes it is lovely to drive with countless more features and safety items... but in the winter I'm looking at barely 50 consistent miles of range after fewer than 30k miles on the clock. The Leaf is used for about half of our trips. What a sad step backwards. A genuine 200 mile car - even without fast charging IS the path forward for me. At least an incremental step. It allows me to get back to what I had 14 years ago with the Rav... and much more. But add real fast charging, and it can be my only car.

· · 47 weeks ago

That makes sense. After my single trip, all the way back in 2012, from Lake Tahoe to LA in loaner Model S, I haven't had access to Superchargers. So I don't know what that's like. I suppose what you're saying is that the long range EV is indeed a substantial step forward, but this poorly defined notion of "mainstream" EV (perhaps defined as a potential one and only car) requires not only 200 or so miles of range, but a robust network of reliable very fast charging. I wonder what GM has in mind for that.

· · 47 weeks ago

I'm glad *somebody* has a handle on what my point might be. :-)

I'm excited about this car. It's poised to be what I consider the first, genuine "second wave" of EVs (leaving Tesla out of the conversation, as usual). Let's say it's the first of the big company cars to break out of the "almost 100 mile range" mode. Nissan set the bar with price/performance/packaging of the Leaf in 2010. Chevy set the bar for a range-extended EV with the Volt. And now Chevy is coming out again with the high bar to meet in range and price with the Bolt. It's an exciting time for me. The competition is fierce! And I do have to say it: The Bolt wouldn't exist in 2016 if Tesla wasn't setting the high mark for EVERYBODY. Tesla is the target for the entire auto industry... amazing for such an astonishingly young company. We still have companies telling us that they'll have a REALLY GREAT EV out in, say, 2020. Maybe right after they crack the code on an H2 car... And of course by 2020, everybody is going to have their second generations out while these guys are just trotting out their firsts. I have to give credit to Chevy for turning this corner. Something I never thought they'd do. To be nice, I'll keep to myself my historical collection of print from GM expressing hatred of all things hybrid and EV.

As far as what GM has in mind for fast charging - I'm afraid it's the same thing that all the other makers (oh, oops... except Tesla) have in mind: Somebody else should really take care of this. Maybe the free market? :sigh:

· · 47 weeks ago

When I pre-ordered my LEAF in 2010, the reported range was 120 miles. Such a range would have taken care of 95% of my driving trips. Real world range being half of that and I recently did something I had vowed a few years back that I would not do; I purchased a new ICE car to replace my aging van. Is this 200 mile range now being reported for the Bolt realistic? If yes then the Bolt is definitely exciting news!

· · 47 weeks ago

Hey Don!

All I can say with certainty is that as spec'ed today, the car will be equipped with enough battery capacity for a genuine 200 miles. The question - as always... for how long? How durable will the batteries be?

The Bolt will have more than 2x the capacity of my 2002 Rav4EV. A car that I once drove 135 miles on a single charge (with AC on, even!), and a car that would offer up a dependable 100 miles day after day, year after year. On the other hand, the Li batteries don't like being used 100%-0% as I so often did with my NiMH Rav, so we'd need to temper the expectation a bit with that, I suppose.

No matter how you slice it, this car will have HUGE battery capacity compared to everything except (drum roll, please) the Teslas.

· · 47 weeks ago

Thanks for the response Darell. The Bolt does sound good and hopefully it will become a reality unlike so many other vapor wonders.

· · 47 weeks ago

FWIW, I found out yesterday that the SAE CCS standard goes all the way to 150 kW. That's faster than a Tesla Supercharger. Audi is planning to use the full capacity within the standard for its 300-mile etron, but the Bolt will be equipped with a 50-kW charger. Hopefully, that changes over time. Nonetheless, with a 200-mile EV, you'll only need the quick charging for long road trips. Otherwise, if you're commutes are even 100 miles, you won't have any range concerns. Cold weather will obviously reduce the range, but the honking battery in the Bolt will still provide a ton more range than any other affordable EV on the market.

· · 47 weeks ago

>> hopefully it will become a reality unlike so many other vapor wonders. <<

Fortunately, I'm a trained professional in these matters and can help you separate the wheat from the chaff.

Here's how vaporware has sounded for the past couple of years in the new world of EV production:
"Here's a rendering of our concept that will be a Tesla Model S killer (or any Tesla present or future) when we introduce it in 2020." Porsche and to a lesser extent VW seem to be mired in this space currently.

Here's how hardware sounds:
"Today we'd like the press and VIPs to take a spin in one of our multiple camouflaged pre-production vehicles. Here's the spec sheet. And... (here's the kicker... stay with me!) this new car will be better than our last production, ground-up EV."

Yes, we'll still get real, new production EVs from the late-to-the partiers. We just don't know when, and we don't know how they'll be able to compete starting so far back in the pack. But the folks who've already proved themselves don't have to struggle much to compete for my confidence these days. Their press releases drip rational specs and reality... and usually pictures of actual non-concept pre-production product!

I'm willing to offer an official 99% EVnut confidence rating in the Bolt being available as (nominally, at least) spec'ed in 2017 (let's see if they can squeeze one out the door in 2016 for the bragging rights.). They have everything they need to succeed on this - except enough batteries for the long run. To me, this GM car is the new Leaf of the late 2010's. It is setting the price standard for the next wave of great cars. It was maybe ten years ago that we figured a fully-featured 80 mile car would cost so much more than this to be profitable. I can't wait to see how Tesla "responds." (In quotes, of course, because the Bolt is quite obviously a response to the Model 3).

· · 47 weeks ago

>> I found out yesterday that the SAE CCS standard goes all the way to 150 kW. <<

Yes, that's certainly true of the standard. But that's all I'm willing to give you today!

>> That's faster than a Tesla Supercharger <<

Yes. The standard is definitely faster than a Tesla Supercharger. In fact, today's super chargers are significantly faster than yesterdays Supercharger. But, wait... that's comparing things that exist! We simply cannot compare real-world product - stuff that's not only been invented by, but also paid for and installed by - the company that promised it, and is being used thousands of times every day by real people using their real cars to do real driving today - to this standard that has not seen the light of day.

If Audi is planning to use this "full capacity" do they also plan to create and install untold thousands of them across all developed countries? I've had a Chademo port on my Leaf since 2011 that's still not been used... yet when I borrowed a Tesla for 24 hours, in one drive I used two Super Chargers that were on my route. For free. And at a charge rate of over 250 mph each time (I love that display that shows how fast you're increasing range). My last charge at near empty was 385 miles per hour. Astonishing!

I'm a bit confused on the 50kW charger for the Bolt. The onboard charger is bypassed with DCQC, of course. But it may well be that the Bolt will be *limited* to 50 kW from whatever off-board source it receives. Allowing higher charge rates begins to add significant expense and even weight to the car. The thing that struck me about the Tesla input is that this whole concept of on and off-board charging is transparent to the user. The same port and equipment is used to connect the car to a 120V 20A outlet to use the car's onboard charger, as is used to connect the car to a 500V, 120 kW Supercharger. The elegance of this sort of user interface is impressive compared to the clunky, cobbled together SAE multi-unit.

Regardless, I hope *somebody* starts to make some use out of that "standard" that we've had for a long while now.

· · 21 weeks ago

The bolt, volt or what ever are city cars.

Untill GM dumps cash into a charging infrastructure.

The CHAdeMO chargers for the most part are unreliable, broken, some of the companies went broke, even the companies still having CHAdeMO, like Blink and others it takes multiple weeks to get these stations operational if at all.

Plus, if you actually have used the CHAdeMO stations are not at the same amperage, some 20-30 % or more from the top CHAdeMO chargers.

One charges at 75, another 90 amps. Never at the top CHAdeMO rate, or hardly ever, every now and the the rate is close to the top amps for CHAdeMO.

GM, Fiat, Ford, Volkswagen need to step up, and the rest.

· · 21 weeks ago

Normally DC Charging bypass the on board charger and charge with DC, but who knows what GM, and the rest are doig

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