GM’s Chevrolet Bolt shows America’s appetite for affordable electric cars




CNN

General Motors makes a big deal with Ultium battery technology, which underpins new and upcoming electric vehicles like the Cadillac Lyriq, GMC Hummer EV and Chevrolet Silverado EV pickup. But the GM EV that’s hitting the mark with customers right now is, ironically, the Bolt, a model that was first introduced in 2016 and doesn’t use the new Ultium battery packs that GM boasts in its new model.

As electric cars go, the Bolt is getting old. In fact, the Bolt has bounced back from a major crisis last year, when GM had to halt production due to a problem that could cause battery fires in some cases. Customers were also warned to treat battery packs with care and avoid charging their cars indoors until the problem is resolved. Even CNN Business questioned, earlier this year, whether or notr GM may be about to “pull the plug on the Bolt.”

Then in April, with the battery problem fixed and gas prices coincidentally on the rise, GM restarted Bolt production. Sales came out like a Corvette Z06 in launch mode. The new, SUV-like Bolt EV and its Bolt EUV sibling had record sales in the third quarter of the year, with 14,000 deliveries to customers. Sales have returned so strongly, in fact, that GM plans to increase production from 44,000 Bolts this year to 70,000 next year.

The Bolt still outsells the Tesla Model 3 and Model Y, with Tesla accounting for less than two-thirds of EVs sold in America, but the Bolt is the best-selling non-Tesla EV in the US. It also sells Tesla flagships, the Model S and Model X, according to a recent report from Kelley Blue Book.

“I would say that the people who are getting the Bolt are probably just people who want to save money on gas on their daily commute,” said Brian Moody, executive editor of AutoTrader.com. “Well, you can’t save money on gas if you spend $70,000 on the car.”

The average electric vehicle sold in America costs about $76,000, according to data from Edmunds.com. The Bolt’s closest competitor, in terms of price, is the Nissan Leaf, but the Leaf sells for much less. In both vehicles, however, the most attractive feature is probably that low price.

Last summer, GM announced that the price of the Bolt EV was dropping to under $27,000, a 27% drop before the recall. That made the Bolt America’s cheapest electric vehicle. Prices for the new Bolt EUV, which is taller and wider, dropped to a base of around $28,200, down $6,300 from before. For the 2023 model year, the price dropped again. The 2023 Bolt EV now has a starting price of $25,600 and, for the Bolt EUV, $27,200. (Meanwhile, GM is offering cash incentives on more expensive 2022 model year vehicles.)

The Leaf has a starting price of about $28,000, but the Leaf still qualifies for a $7,500 federal tax credit not available to the Bolt. It’s unclear whether Bolt will once again be eligible for tax credits when the full terms of the Inflation Relief Act take effect in January.

A month-long factory shutdown in April helped boost sales earlier in the year, said Bradford Franz, Chevrolet’s director of marketing. But the price drop also helped a lot, he said, as did the introduction of some new design and trim features for the 2023 model, like a sporty “Redline” package for EUV.

The general growth of electric vehicles certainly helped as well. In the US, EV sales rose 67% in the third quarter of 2022 compared to the same period last year, according to a report by Kelley Blue Book.

As with other cars, even the cheap Bolts become much more expensive when options are added. A 2022 Bolt EUV Premium recently tested by CNN Business had a sticker price of about $43,000, before incentives. Features include heated and cooled front seats, wireless phone charging, and wireless Apple CarPlay and Super Cruise, GM’s hands-free highway driver assistance system.

It didn’t have all-wheel drive, though. Despite being SUV-like, the Bolt EUV is only available with front-wheel drive. An EPA-estimated driving range of 247 miles on a full charge — 12 miles less than the Bolt EV — is good for the price, but not amazing compared to more expensive EVs. Perhaps more concerning is the maximum “quick charge” speed of just 55 kilowatts, which means that, on a fast charger, Bolt owners can add 100 kilometers of range in 30 minutes, while other EVs can take more power. quickly

While it’s not exactly exciting to drive, the Bolt EUV is a respectable and practical vehicle with ample storage space in the back and surprisingly roomy rear seats. Like many electric cars, it can be driven in a “one-pedal” style, with the car braking as much as the accelerator pedal is lifted. This feature can be turned on and off if you want to charge it like a normal car. Overall, though, the car’s interior materials and overall feel, which are fine for a $30,000 car, don’t match what buyers can otherwise get in cars costing more than $40,000.

The Bolt was slightly redesigned for the 2022 model year, at the same time as an EUV version was added. It got a slightly new look at the front and rear ends, plus some extra features, including the availability of that Super Cruise technology. However, the Bolt is based on older engineering, which has helped keep the price down.

The fact that the Bolt EV is based on that old engineering means GM is still making money from vehicle development work that was done years ago, Moody said. Hence the low prices and hence the renewed popularity. For customers who don’t need the latest stuff, it’s just right.

“I think they did the math and the math says there are enough people that it’s worth it,” Moody said.