If there’s one thing that we’ve learned in the past two months about electric cars, it’s that there has been a dramatic and noticeable shift in attitudes towards cars that run on electricity rather than gasoline. From the unexpected, unprecedented numbers of people putting their name down to buy a Tesla Model 3 electric car to the way in which the alluring, if fake, Chevrolet Jolt EV website gained social media notoriety just a few hours after going live, something is blatantly clear.
People are willing, ready and able to buy a 200-mile mass-market affordable electric car, regardless of the badge on the front.
Which is perhaps why one analyst is predicting that the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV, General Motor’s first long-distance, affordable, five-seat electric car, will sell between 30,000 and 80,000 units in its first year of production. That’s the kind of volume which would move Chevrolet’s electric car efforts from being a niche-market also ran on GM’s monthly sales charts to being a meaningful, tangible proportion of GM’s overall output.
Enter Kelley Blue Book analyst Karl Brauer who, as Autobloggreen details, made his prediction of Chevy Bolt EV sales to Barron’s last month, shortly after Tesla Motors [NASDAQ:TSLA] unveiled the Tesla Model 3. And while such production figures may have seemed outlandish a year ago (or even a few months ago), the more than 400,000 reservations now placed for the Tesla Model 3 means that we can not only call these figures plausible but probable too.
Why? If we ignore the ongoing spat between Tesla and GM over franchised dealerships and Tesla’s direct-to-customer sales model, it’s easy to see that the Chevrolet Bolt EV, despite its expected higher sticker price over the Tesla Model 3, is likely to have some advantages over its California rival. While Tesla may take the upper hand on charging availability and technology thanks to its extensive Supercharger network and exhaustive work on Autopilot autonomous drive technology, Chevrolet will likely win on availability and production volume.
That’s because Tesla — despite hinting that it is looking to expand production to more locations around the world — has one main production facility at the current time and a few ‘final assembly facilities’ where U.S.-built cars receive market-specific customization for European and Asian customers. GM meanwhile, has automotive production facilities on every continent. While many of those facilities are already operating at or near capacity with other GM vehicles, it would be fairly trivial — with enough investment from GM — to bring several production facilities on line to handle local Bolt EV production for different markets, as Nissan did back in 2012 when it shifted LEAF production from one Japanese factory to three different factories around the world.
And while Tesla as a brand is a strong one that people aspire to — a brand that is in tune with a new type of car buyer that wants their vehicle to be a clean, green, sophisticated computer on wheels — there are some who want their car to be a little less silicon valley and a little more Detroit.
For those who are hardened Tesla fans, that last fact may seem strange. But it’s true: for the right price, the Chevrolet Bolt EV could be a strong seller for GM, engaging existing Chevy customers who currently drive cars like the Chevrolet Spark, Chevrolet Sonic and Chevrolet Malibu. While Tesla’s market share among luxury electric cars, and electric cars as a whole, is growing; GM’s strategy seems to be one which involves encouraging existing GM customers to make the switch to all electric.
That’s a shift from the Chevy Volt, which was something of a conquest car for the brand. And while we’ll admit that GM hasn’t openly stated what its marketing strategy is, we think the language so far from GM on the Bolt EV is pretty clear: GM wants its younger, tech-savvy customers to stick with the brand, dump the pump, and opt for a Bolt EV.
But there’s another reason too, albeit one which could leave a sour taste in the mouths of EV fans: as Autobloggreen notes, high sales figures of the Bolt EV would give GM a massive rise in its Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) figures. Like all automakers, GM must meet ever-increasingly high fuel economy figures averaged over its entire fleet. Selling high numbers of the Bolt EV would give GM some breathing room in its most popular market segments: full-size SUVs and pickup trucks. Those cars, traditionally the most profitable for automakers like GM, are struggling to meet more stringent fuel economy and emissions targets, but large volume sales of the Bolt EV could negate that problem — at least for a few years.
Regardless of where you stand on the reasons we’ve given, we think GM’s zeal for the Bolt EV and the urgency with which it is trying to bring its first 200+ mile electric car to market shows that it is deadly serious about making the Bolt EV a mainstream addition to the Chevrolet family.
For that to happen, it needs to sell 30,000 to 80,000 examples per year. And while there are fleets of electric car fans, advocates, and enthusiasts who cry ‘Never GM,’ after the way it has acted in the past toward electric cars — and its continued negative actions toward Tesla, it’s worth remembering one very simple fact.
Tesla may have managed 400,000 Model 3 reservations. But that’s tiny compared with the number of cars GM churns out every year. What’s more, your average car buyer isn’t as worried about GM’s approach to Tesla as you might think.
They just want to turn up at a dealer, pay their money, and get a car that’s cheap to run, fun to drive, meets their needs and reflects their personality.
And that’s something GM is willing and able to provide.
Luckily, there’s room for both sorts of electric car buyers in the automotive world — just as there’s room for the Tesla Model 3 and Chevy Bolt EV. After all, both are as important as the other in accelerating the shift towards cleaner, greener cars.
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