GM Pulls Out All The Stops To Get Chevrolet Bolt EV to Market As Soon as Possible

Traditionally, automotive design and development cycles can take years to transition from concept to production vehicle, especially if the vehicle includes a lot of new, ground-breaking technology or requires a brand-new design ethos which has not been attempted before. With a little determination, it’s possible but rare to see a two-year gap between concept and production vehicles, but even Tesla — which by all accounts completely ignores auto industry norms — took three years to bring its Model X to market rather than the super-quick year and a half it initially promised.

Unveiled as a concept car in Detroit in January, the Chevrolet Bolt EV will enter into production next year.

Unveiled as a concept car in Detroit in January, the Chevy Bolt EV will enter into production in 2016.

Tesla has always tried to act differently to the rest of the industry, priding itself on doing things far quicker and responding to the market far quicker than the heavyweights of Detroit. But when it enters into production next year, the Chevrolet Bolt EV will represent a new type of vehicular development from General Motors, as well as a determination to show it too has a vested interest in getting the world into electric cars.

It is, to use a metaphor, pulling out all of the proverbial stops to market the Bolt EV “the right way,” bringing it to market as soon as it possibly can. As a former organist who knows exactly what that term can mean in real life, you should know this author isn’t using the term lightly.

GM is working hard to bring the Bolt EV to market as soon as possible.

GM is working hard to bring the Bolt EV to market as soon as possible.

Talking to Autobloggreen editor Sebastian Blanco just over a month ago at the 2015 annual AltCar Expo in Santa Monica, California,  Shad Balch — whose job focus is on Environment & Energy Policy and Communications at General Motors — said Chevrolet is keen to make sure the Bolt EV hits the market on time and is an instant success.

As Blanco notes, General Motors isn’t helping itself all that much at the moment, with a current advert for its 2016 Chevrolet Volt range-extended electric car taking aim at all-electric cars, specifically the Nissan LEAF. Ignore that fact however, and it’s clear that at least some of GM’s marketing team are all about the Bolt EV.

“The most encouraging part for us out here, being in the market…to be able to explain that we are committed to marketing this car the right way,” he said. “We’re trying to make that known as much as possible because that is the number one criticism that we hear. That’s why events like these are so important, because we can’t wrap up into a 30-second spot what these cars are capable of.”

“I can’t even explain it to you in 10 minutes what it’s like,” he continued. “But the thing is, driving an EV is, in every proof point, better than a gas-powered car, except for charging.”

For those with a long memory, that’s a very different and very welcome attitude from the GM which crushed the EV1.

Some, for whom that memory is still a bitter one, will treat GM’s new attitude towards electric cars with caution and mistrust until the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt is selling in meaningful numbers across the U.S. Some may even worry that the Bolt EV will, like the limited-production but very competent Chevrolet Spark EV it replaces, be nothing more than a compliance car, available in limited numbers in only key U.S. states where automakers must offer some form of zero emission vehicle in order to avoid hefty fines.

Chevy is keen to make sure everyone knows the Bolt EV wont be like the Spark EV -- a compliance car.

Chevy is keen to make sure everyone knows the Bolt EV won’t be like the Spark EV — a compliance car.

But, says Balach, that’s not GM’s intention: the Chevrolet Bolt EV is a car it is pushing to launch in all 50 states simultaneously next fall, with the kind of production volume which will help it not only meet efficiency and emissions standards but which also helps bring the cost of manufacturing down thanks to economies of scale.

“GM leadership has essentially fast-tracked this car into production,” he said. “It’s very safe to assume that this car is going to be here sooner rather than later. We’ve also committed that it’s going to be a 50-state vehicle at launch. That’s to show our commitment to the technology. Our hope is that it becomes a high-volume-selling car, and that it’s not just for the coasts, it’s not just for a certain income level, but it’s a long-range EV that anybody can get themselves into.”

When it comes to marketing, the “meant-for-everyone” message is going to be GM’s strongest ally. With a 200-mile range and a price tag GM hopes will be somewhere around $30,000 after incentives, the Chevrolet Bolt EV won’t necessarily be a whole lot cheaper than the highly-anticipated Tesla Model 3. That car, due some time in 2017 as a 2018 model-year car, will offer Tesla’s legendary Supercharger capabilities and at least 200+ miles of range per charge. It will likely cost $35,000.

So far however, Tesla has been a premium brand, a car which has associations with the coastal markets, wealthy software executives and movie stars. Chevrolet meanwhile, has its long history as a brand known for providing reliable workhorses to the everyday man (or woman) on the street. If it can pitch the Chevrolet Bolt EV as something everyone can drive, not just the tech-savvy upper middle-class, GM’s car for everyone message may just help it win against Tesla’s luxury car feel.

“[This is] a good alternative to the luxury long-range EVs that are available now,” Balch said. “It’s something that people can see themselves actually affording to get into. That’s the message from this car.”

GM will need to make its Bolt as mainstream as the Malibu -- or any of its pickups -- in order to achieve high sales.

GM will need to make its Bolt as mainstream as the Malibu — or any of its pickups — in order to achieve high sales.

But while GM might be eager to start afresh with the Chevrolet Bolt EV, using new manufacturing techniques, unprecedented cooperation with its suppliers and even a fresh approach to electric vehicle marketing, there’s one really big thing it needs to tackle before it can even hope of competing against the Tesla Model 3 or upcoming next-generation, long-range Nissan LEAF in the marketplace: its dealers.

Where it is allowed to do so, Tesla owns and operates its own stores without the troubles of going through a franchised dealership, and its Tesla referral program ensures that drivers are as actively engaged in selling its product as Tesla’s own staff are. Nissan meanwhile, has been working exhaustively for five years straight to engage and inform its dealerships across the world about electric vehicles and the benefits of owning a Nissan LEAF. And that’s before you take into account the work put in by Tesla and Nissan to grow public charging infrastructure so that their respective customers can make trips knowing there’s a reliable charging infrastructure available for them to use.

In order to truly get its Bolt EV sold in all 50 states at high-enough volumes, GM will have to put in a similar amount of work, especially in its pickup-loving heartlands. That’s because unlike the Chevrolet Volt — which was something of a conquest vehicle for GM, bringing new buyers to the brand — the Chevrolet Bolt EV will need to be purchased for new and existing Chevrolet customers alike.

In order for that to happen, GM will need to change the minds of its dealerships about plug-in cars as well as the minds of its seasoned customers.

And that is no small feat. Let’s hope that metaphorical organ has plenty of ranks of pipes to pull on in order to spread the word.


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  • But are dealers willing to sell, and even push a car, on consumers that decrease the only profitable part of their business (parts & service)? For every Bolt they sell, that’s 3-4 less oil changes a year, no “tune-ups”, more reliable driving on an electric power train.

    I believe GM is on-board with EVs (*finally*) but the dealership network still has the power to kill the product, and it is in their own long-term self interest to do so.

    • Michael Thwaite

      I wonder if the dealers will ultimately realize that the profit in an electric car is upfront. I’ve seen BMW dealers fight for the upfront sale price but then witnessed self-defeating battles between dealers to win a sale and watched that price fall. Apple and Tesla don’t discount the sale price – they see the future I think.

      • vdiv

        When the dealer is given a certain allotment of cars that they have to sell in a certain time regardless of the demand, or lose money on storing the cars it is very hard to insist on the list price, especially when customers have been conditioned to “getting a deal” or being called a schmuck.

        • JerkassWoobie

          Zero Motorcycles did a major price drop on their 2015 model several months ago, no doubt trying to clear inventory in advance of the 2016 model.

    • VFanRJ

      So, so true. The dealer problem will be a very difficult problem to solve. Dealers make more of their profit servicing cars than anything else.

      • doug r

        Still a large profit to be made selling power at $0.12 a kwh that you get for $0.05 a kwh or FREE from solar panels.

  • Quote : “But the thing is, driving an EV is, in every proof point, better than a gas-powered car, except for charging.”

    Really?! Charging is the SINGLE BEST reason to buy an electric car. My wife loves plugging the car in when she comes home. We drove 500 km on a recent weekend and never “stopped” to refuel, we just plugged in Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights as normal. Every other car would have needed to stop for 15 minutes to gas up, but we didn’t, and plugging in only takes 5 seconds, saving 15 minutes of our time, see how EV’s are faster to refuel than gas? }-)

    Contrast that to the completely ridiculous need to go to the gas station and getting that smell on her clothes, and of course the need to be outside pumping a poisonous liquid into a tank on cold winter days…

    These dinosaur companies like GM are missing the entire reason to buy EV’s, the greater convenience (no pumping gas), luxury (powerful motor and no noise) and low maintenance.

    • VFanRJ

      Except for traveling. 5 minutes at the pump vs 20+ minutes at the charger is a challenge. Plus I have had enormous problems of chargers being used or not working. We have a ways to go.

      The bigger issue is that people who don’t have a garage (live in apartments) don’t have a good option today. Sooner or later, thieves are going to start targeting stealing chargers, which will be a whole new set of problems. We have a ways to go.

      • Lots of wrong in your post.
        We drove our Tesla from Toronto to New York and back in the summer, and stopped to charge every 3 hours, about the time I was tired and needed a rest, or the family needed a meal. Charging made our trip more enjoyable, and the fuel was free.
        Thieves stealing charging stations?! LOL! REALLY! Good luck with that, given that they retail for a few hundred dollars.
        Next you’re going to tell people to stop riding bicycles because they also can be stolen? Maybe we shouldn’t have phones either, they are easy to misplace and get stolen too? Sheesh…

        • VFanRJ

          Sorry, but I drive an EV and am intimate with its limitations. The vast majority of drivers want to travel far longer than 3 hour between 20 minute breaks. I’ve never driven this slow in my life and have no interest in starting now. Neither does the mass market.

          Sorry, but large portion of the auto buying public don’t have garages. Until we demonstrate resolve to solve the inability to safely charge their cars it’s not an EV market.

          Stolen cooper? Where have you been? If charging stations become ubiquitous as they need to be for EVs to be successful mindless thieves will steal charging cables for the same reason they still cooper from transfer stations and underground tubing today. It’s a $1B annual problem in the U.S. Shorting out the charger and then cutting the cable takes less than a minute with the right tools.

          Wish it wasn’t so but it is.

          • Andy Allenton

            You’ve got the barrel-making industry running scared!!!

          • CalRobert

            Wait, people still cooper? It’s a lost art; I want to know where I can see prime quality barrels still being made!

          • VFanRJ

            google metal theft. It’s quite common.

          • CalRobert
      • JerkassWoobie

        I live in a 4-unit apartment building with a 4-car capacity garage. I had been parking my moto (BMW RT) in one of the spots, until my landlady decided to rent that spot out, forcing me to shove my moto up against the wall to make room.

        The car that’s parked in that spot: A Tesla Roadster. So if my moto has to be crowded by a car, at least it’s an awesome car! The guy who parks it there doesn’t do so all the time, and doesn’t even bother to plug in every time he parks, because the range is so much longer than he needs.

        As I noted above, I’m looking forward to replacing my BMW RT with an electric sport-touring bike with range enough to handle my Bay Area day-riding needs, and plugging in next to the Tesla.

    • John LoVerso

      While I agree with most everything you say, I don’t understand why it takes you 15 minutes to refill a gas tank. Even my minivan with the 18 (US) gal. tank, it takes just 3 minutes to fill the tank (and we take it on lots of 400mi+ trips).

    • JerkassWoobie

      Charging overnight at home > going to the gas station to refuel.
      Stopping at a gas station to refuel for 5-10 min. > finding a charging station & waiting 20-40 min. to recharge (unless in combination with a regular meal break – but not every 2-3 hours).

      That’s why, for even the longer-range mass market plug-in hybrids & all-battery cars, they’re absolutely the tool for the job for the 95%+ of driving done on a daily basis, for those people who have a garage to park and plug-in in (important point) – but still not quite up to the task of a weekend or vacation road trip, save for the Tesla Model S with its very long range and very fast Supercharger network.

      As battery energy density/capacity and recharging speeds improve – as they have been steadily over the past decade, with several technologies each promising a quantum leap in these factors under development – this will become less of a thing. The Bolt, the Model 3, and future generations of the LEAF etc. all point to this within the next 2-3 years.

      Meanwhile, as plug-in and EV becomes more common, charging stations will become more ubiquitous. As soon as the first major motel chain (e.g. Motel 6) and/or the first mass-market diner (e.g. Denny’s) starts installing charging posts in all their parking lots, the “no good for road trips” barrier will cease to be.

      (Me, I’m waiting for either Zero, Victory/Polaris/Brammo, or someone else to build me an electric moto in sport-touring trim with 150-200 miles range.)

  • asemeco

    “Tesla Model 3. That car, …, will offer Tesla’s legendary Supercharger capabilities”

    Are you sure?

    The supercharger network works because there is a relatively high premium upfront, and because the number of cars accessing it is limited. The Model 3 would break the model to pieces.

    • Chris O

      You can be very sure about that Supercharger support, the cars wouldn’t sell without them which is problematic for GM as the Bolts need make do with 50KW output infrastructure which won’t make for particularly quick quickcharging. Some of the proceeds of every Model 3 sold will need to be invested in expansion and upkeep of the Supercharger network.

      We can be sure that Tesla will put an end to free local quickcharging however as that will overwhelm capacity real quick, only free (if free at all)for long distance travel which is only a small percentage of total power consumption anyway.

      • Do you have a cite for the Bolt being limited to 50 kW charging? Or are you simple referring to the current DCFC installed capacity?

        • Chris O

          Just installed capacity, GM has yet to publish definitive numbers on the Bolt, including numbers on charge rates. For 200 miles the car would need a minimum 50KWh battery, it’s going to be interesting to see how long the current 50KW infrastructure will need to replenish those.

    • doug r

      I’m thinking this is part of Tesla’s expansion plans – which may involve selling out to GM or Google or Panasonic.

  • Chris O

    But the thing is, driving an EV is, in every proof point, better than a gas-powered car, except for charging.

    Someone already noted that even the charging part needs not be much of a downside but this quote really captures GM’s marketing conundrum: it’s just not convenient to stress EV superiority over gas-powered if 99% of you business happens to be those gas-powered cars. That’s no doubt why the ill conceived Volt ads targeted other EVs rather than GM’s core business.

    And yes, competing with Model 3 might be tough. I doubt the approach suggested by the author to beat Tesla’s premium appeal by pitching it as a car for the regular Joe is going to work once regular Joe realises he can get a premium car for the same price and one with proper high-output charger support at that.

    • JerkassWoobie

      If the Bolt beats the Model 3 to market by a year or two, as looks likely, Chevy could very well take a lot of wind out of Tesla’s sails in that segment. And looking at that prototype – what’s that I see? – a panoramic windscreen/skyroof? Very Tesla-ish…

    • Joseph Dubeau

      “And yes, competing with Model 3 might be tough” well so far the Model 3 is vaporware.
      We will have to see in 2018.

      • Andy Allenton

        I’ll second that. Like anything, unless it exists, it cannot be. It’s hard to compare something that doesn’t exist with something that almost exists!