Traditionally, the process of turning a concept car into a full production vehicle is an exhaustive one involving multiple stages of development, refinement and design tweaking. If the vehicle is being built on an existing platform or happens to be a variation of an existing model, that process can take anything from sixteen months to two years. If the vehicle is being built on a brand-new platform that has never been used before or debuts a new technology, that time frame can dramatically increase.
Even automakers like Tesla Motors — which shuns pretty much every traditional automotive practice in favor of more agile and responsive development cycles — struggles to bring a new model to market in a timely fashion, having been late to market by more than a year with its Model X electric SUV. So when an automaker brings a car to market in double-quick time, it usually means a significant investment has been made by its board of directors and that the car itself is considered intrinsic to the company’s future.
Which is just one of several reasons those in the electric car world are paying close attention to the upcoming 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV, a car which as Automotive News confirmed this week will be rolling off production lines in just three months time, less than twenty months after it debuted as a concept car in January 2015.
When the Bolt EV was unveiled as a concept car, General Motors was coy, declaring that it would consider bringing the compact car into production if it received enough positive feedback. Less than a month after showing the car for the first time, it had committed to making the Bolt EV a production car — and immediately began work on testing engineering pre-production prototypes at its various test facilities across the U.S.
The first GM car to offer 200+ miles of all-electric range, the Chevrolet Bolt EV has been designed from the ground up as an electric car, packing a next-generation 60 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack from partner LG Chem beneath the passenger compartment for an expected range in excess of 215 miles per charge. If that sounds familiar, that’s because 215 miles is the range predicted by Tesla of its entry-level upcoming Model 3 electric sedan. Indeed, when the Chevy Bolt EV was first unveiled, discussed a real-world range of 200 miles per charge (or thereabouts). When Tesla unveiled the Model 3 and discussed a range in excess of 215 miles per charge, GM upped its game, confidently noting the Bolt EV’s range could easily be tweaked to match that of the Model 3.
But while the five-seat hatchback is expected to go on sale for around $37,500 before incentives — putting it squarely in the same territory as the entry-level, no-frills Tesla Model 3 and its promised $35,000 pre-incentive price tag — GM is adamant that the Chevrolet Bolt EV is marketed at a completely different market segment. Unlike the Model 3, GM’s top brass hint, the Bolt EV is a car for everyday Americans to drive. Moreover, it hints, it’s a car that will prove far more cost-effective and far more practical in everyday use than Model 3.
We think the jury is out on that statement — while Tesla’s Model 3 may lack a hatchback and Tesla CEO Elon Musk has admitted the average price of a Model 3 is likely to be closer to $44,000 than $35,000, the Model 3 has Supercharger capabilities and a ready-made charging network — GM certainly seems keen on getting the Bolt EV to market before the luxury automaker.
With all of its major engineering and development work completed months ago, GM began pre-production of the Bolt EV way back in March, and, say sources close to the automaker, are already putting fleets of Bolt EV electric cars through their paces in the real world. Last week in fact, a convoy of Bolt EV electric cars wearing manufacturer plates were spotted along the I-5 corridor travelling from San Francisco, California to Seattle, Washington. Having heard reports from several contacts in the region, it appears the convoy was not only testing vehicle range in the real world but also testing compatibility with the CCS DC quick charging stations already in the wild.
But perhaps the most promising piece of news comes from a contact of Transport Evolved who happened upon the cars charging at the well-known Electric Avenue series of DC quick charging stations situated in front of Portland’s World Trade Center on Salmon Street.
While they were unable to get a huge amount of details from those driving the car, we were told that one of the cars showed a range in excess of 200 miles remaining on its dashboard, despite its battery pack only being 85 percent full. If that translates to the production Bolt EV, we could be seeing real-world ranges in excess of 230 miles per charge.
Regardless of what the real-world or EPA rating for this exciting upcoming plug-in will be however, we think one thing is very clear: unlike past electric vehicles it has made, General Motors doesn’t seem to be messing around when it comes to making a long-range practical electric car. The only fly in the ointment? A lack of interest from the Detroit automaker on supporting the expansion of CCS DC quick charging networks, something it appears to be giving a low priority to.
Based on what we’ve heard about the Bolt EV thus far however, we’d suggest that strategy needs to change quickly — or GM could lose out to the Tesla Model 3 after all.
You can also support us directly as a monthly supporting member by visiting Patreon.com.