Why Is the 238-Mile Chevy Bolt Not Selling Like Hotcakes?

By · April 07, 2017

Chevy Bolt

For all the advances in electric car technology, sales of plug-in cars still represent only about one percent of the new car market. For years, common wisdom suggested that high purchase prices and low driving range were holding back EV sales. But the Chevy Bolt—with 238 miles of range and a post-incentive price around $30,000—was supposed to change all that when it went on sale last December. Unfortunately, that does not appear to be the case.

Despite winning a slew of awards—and wide praise from green car advocates—Bolt sales in 2017 are averaging about 1,000 units per month and inventory is backing up at dealerships. Bolt sales lag behind electric cars like the Nissan LEAF, a car with half its range. The situation has journalists scratching their head about what’s holding back EV sales.

Slate opines, “Adoption curves and take-up rates of new technologies aren’t driven simply by the efficacy of the technology in and of itself.” Slate blames a lack of infrastructure.

The assumption is that long-range EVs like the Bolt still are not useful for long road trips because drivers don’t have ready access to charging stations along major highway routes. Tesla addressed that issue with its proprietary Supercharger network, but it has not yet been tackled by any other automaker.

Superchargers also require Tesla owners to take specific routes to refuel and to stop for longer than drivers of gas-powered cars. But the availability of those chargers has apparently been enough—along with sleek, attractive designs and a powerhouse brand—to make Tesla the number one seller of EVs (even with its big sticker prices).

Chevy doesn’t have the same stellar brand perception—at least not for EVs. Green Car Reports tells readers that General Motors sells more units of its loud, powerful and iconic Camaro than supposedly breakthrough cars like the Chevy Bolt. The website suggests that Chevy dealers might have an easier time selling Camaros because they are perceived as more fun to drive.

In other words, the goal posts keep receding for EVs. They are no longer small, underpowered and lacking in range. They don’t carry huge price tags or look exceptionally geeky. But the perception of them as compromised by lack of infrastructure and inconvenient for road trips is now reason enough to stay on the sidelines.

Mark Duvall, director of energy utilization for the Electric Power Research Institute in Palo Alto, told the San Jose Mercury News, “It takes a long time to change someone’s inherent perceptions about new technology…especially with one of the two biggest purchases people make.”

It’s tough to change people’s perceptions about EVs—even those with a long-range model like the Bolt—when most consumers have not benefitted from the enjoyable experience of owning and driving an EV. So the question remains: How do you convince everyday consumers to give electric cars a try?

Also see: Looking Beyond the Chevy Bolt’s Impressive 238 Miles of Range

New to EVs? Start here

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