General Motors on Monday unveiled its battery-powered Chevrolet Bolt, challenging Tesla in the race to produce an affordable electric car.
The Bolt concept car made its debut at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, alongside a redesigned 2016 Volt, the second generation of Chevrolet’s pioneering plug-in hybrid.
The all-electric Bolt boasts a groundbreaking combination of low price and long driving range. It will sell in the low $30,000’s, after government incentives, and travel up to 200 miles on a battery charge, Mark Reuss, GM’s executive vice president for global product development, said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times.
“The Bolt breaks the barrier on range anxiety,” Reuss said.
Most all-electric cars in the Bolt’s price range, including Nissan’s Leaf and Fiat’s 500e, can travel about 80 miles on a charge. Tesla’s Model S has a range of 265 miles, but typically sells for $80,000 to $100,000.
Tesla has garnered headlines with the promise of its Model 3 — at half the cost of a Model S — but that vehicle may be years away.
“The affordable-yet-functional electric car has yet to materialize,” said Karl Brauer, senior analyst at Kelly Blue Book.
Chevy says the Bolt will be on sale by 2017. The car relies on the use of strong-but-lightweight materials, including aluminum, magnesium and carbon fiber.
Telsa cheered the new Chevy in a statement.
“Tesla is always supportive of other manufacturers who bring compelling electric vehicles to the market,” the automaker said. “We applaud Chevrolet for introducing the Bolt and are excited to learn more about the product.”
GM executives have kept an eye on Tesla, Reuss said. The company bought and scrutinized a Model S soon after it went on sale, as it does with innovative vehicles from other automakers, he said.
“We’re not just here to compete,” he said. “We’re here to win.”
Reuss said it would be “nice” if GM beat Tesla’s Model 3 to market, but added, “Being first is not the most important thing. Being best is.”
GM may have learned that lesson from the first Volt, one of the industry’s first serious efforts at a battery-powered car. Chevrolet had hoped the original Volt would break through as a mainstream vehicle.
The result, however, was a pricey and compromised car, said Jake Fisher, director of auto testing at Consumer Reports. The original Volt started at $41,000 for a base model, before incentives of up to $7,500 from the federal government and $2,500 from California.
In designing the 2016 Volt, Chevrolet systematically addressed consumer complaints about the original, said Andrew Farah, the lead engineer on both projects.
Volt owners’ biggest priority, he said, was a longer electric-only driving range, followed by better mileage, which he said will increase to 41 mpg. The electric-only range increases to 50 miles.
Chevrolet did not release pricing on the new Volt, but it isn’t likely to increase much, if at all, from the current model, which starts at about $34,000 before incentives. Farah said his team focused on giving customers a better car for the money.
“The improvement in range is significant, and miles per gallon is significant, but what really matters is how it feels driving down the road,” he said. “That’s where you hook people.”
The debuts of the Bolt and redesigned Volt affirm the automaker’s long-term commitment to electric power plants, Reuss said, even in an era of plunging gas prices.
“There are a lot of people who don’t make snap decisions based on the current price of gas,” Reuss said. “These are people who care about what they are doing to help the environment for the next generation.”
The unveilings also raise hopes for the wider adoption of electric vehicles, and may bring GM the kind of success Toyota has enjoyed with its gas-electric hybrid Prius, which at times has been the best-selling vehicle in California.
“The Bolt could give GM a viable Prius-fighter,” Brauer said, “bestowing the automaker with the same level of green affinity Toyota has enjoyed for the past decade.”