General Motors CEO Mary Barra took center stage at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on Wednesday to officially announce the Chevy Bolt, a car she says will retail for $37,500 and have a range of 200 miles. She was clearly excited to be first to market, beating Telsa’s upcoming Model 3 by at least a year — assuming Tesla gets it into production in time. The Model 3 will retail for $35,000 and also have 200 miles of range. “The Bolt is more than just a car,” Ms. Barra said. “It’s an upgradeable platform for new technologies. This isn’t some science project.”
Chevy has not released many technical details about the car. We don’t know, for instance, how big the battery is or how long it will take to charge. What we do know is that is has a flat floor with the battery suspended underneath. It also has front seats mounted on pedestals, much like the center seats in the Tesla Model X. Those seats provide more foot room for rear seat passengers and the flat floor makes it easy for everyone to scamper in and out of the car.
We also don’t know what trim levels will be offered and at what price. Making some assumptions based on the Chevy Volt, a fully optioned model will cost about $8,000 more than the base model, pushing the price of the car, which is slightly smaller than the Nissan LEAF, to $45,000 or more. Chevy may release more details at the Detroit auto show next week.
Ms. Barra emphasized that the Bolt can be connected via the internet to an owner’s smart phone, allowing it to park itself in the garage and re-emerge upon command. That capability will also be useful if the car is used as an on-demand vehicle for a ride sharing service in the future. Everyone assumes that the car ownership paradigm is shifting and that people in the golden dawn of tomorrow won’t want to actually own cars. Instead, they will prefer to pay a fee to use one when needed. GM wants to be ready for that emerging market and in fact has just invested $500,000,000 in ride sharing service Lyft.
What is the Bolt like to drive? Forbes reporter Joann Muller shared her impressions after driving one at CES. “It’s peppy and responsive as you’d expect an electric car to be, and handles corners like a little rally car. Braking feels, well, normal, which is somewhat unique for an electric car. In stop-and-go traffic, you don’t even need to use the brake. Shift into low and it’s capable of one-pedal driving. Lift your foot off the accelerator and it stops. Touch the pedal again and you’re off.
“The Bolt is cute – it’s designed as a small crossover SUV – but there’s an incredible amount of space inside, thanks to the design of the flat battery pack mounted beneath the floor and thin, sculpted front seats that give rear passengers extra leg room. Even a six-foot-two journalist who climbed in the back had plenty of head- and legroom. Families would have no trouble buckling three car seats in the back.”
Reaction to the Bolt’s styling has been mixed. Some say it looks like the love child of a BMW i3 and Honda Fit, which it really does. The question is, what will the Tesla Mode 3 look like when the first prototype is put on public display in March? If it has styling that blows the Bolt away, buyers may opt to wait for the Model 3 in 1 (or 2 or 3) years. In the meantime, having the only car in the marketplace with 200 miles of range and an affordable price has to be a good thing for GM. It will give it a chance to build a following before other companies can bring similar cars to market.
The Bolt will be a 50 state car, but we do not know at this moment if it will have a phased rollout like the second generation Volt or be available in all states simultaneously. Production is scheduled to begin in late 2016. So is the Chevy Bolt amazing? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section.