I have, for some time, been keeping an eye out for the debut of the Chevy Bolt, a wunderkind of an EV that is supposed to vindicate the promise of the EV, and improve on every shortcoming of the breed. Every article I’ve seen on the little econobox appears to have been ghostwritten by GM’s marketing department. It’s like CNN reporting on Hillary Clinton. This article by Arstechnica.com is representative:
The Chevrolet Bolt is one of the most anticipated cars of 2016. GM’s first long-range battery electric vehicle is due to hit dealerships before the end of 2016 and beat Tesla’s Model 3 to market as the first mass-market long-range BEV. There has been speculation until now as to the Bolt’s actual range; on Tuesday morning, Chevrolet confirmed that you can expect an EPA-estimate of 238 miles on a full battery.
It might be wise to recall that when the Chevy Volt was introduced, its range was hyped at 50 miles per charge, but real world experience dropped that lofty guess to around 25 miles for most people under most conditions. Battery technology has probably improved to some degree, and various testers have claimed they traveled in that neighborhood on a single charge, but others have been rather vague in noting they didn’t quite make it. Therefore, it might be fair to take 50% off the optimistic guess for the Bolt. If there is one thing any organ of the Obama Administration–like the EPA or General Motors–can be counted on doing, that’s lying.
Let’s see what Chevrolet has to say:
The available 240-volt charging unit is the fastest way to recharge your battery at home and offers more power than a 120-volt outlet. This higher-voltage system can provide up to an average of 25 miles of range per 1 hour of charge. You can fully replenish your battery from empty to full in about 9.5 hours.
This is the highest voltage charger available for home use. Purchase and installation will normally run in the $2000.00 range, perhaps more. The 9.5 hours involved remind us the supposed 238 available miles come only with substantial advanced planning, and another 9.5 hour wait for recharging at the other end of the trip. Arstechnica again:
While GM is not going to build a network of fast charging stations a la Tesla, the car does use the Combined Charging System protocol. The company says that 30 minutes on a level three charger will top up the batteries with 90 miles of range.
Uh, let’s review what GM actually says about that:
This higher-voltage system can provide up to an average of 25 miles of range per 1 hour of charge.
A level 1 system is standard 120 volt AC wall current. Level 2 is 240 volt AC current (this is the standard current level provided to homes, but split to 120 volts at the outlet). Level 3 varies from 400-600 DC volts. While such stations are quick, they are few indeed, and Tesla’s are propriety. In Electric Follies: The Promise of Tesla Motors (July, 2015) I wrote about the realities of supposedly high mileage EVs, including diesel generator powered level 3 chargers. Coal-powered EVs also powered by diesels. There’s irony for you. Here’s what GM says about the level 3 chargers it is not providing for anyone:
Bolt EV offers available DC Fast Charging capability, which provides a GM-estimated up to 90 miles of range in about 30 minutes of charge time. That’s enough time to enjoy a cup of coffee. DC Fast Charging stations are available for public use and are perfect for topping off your charge while on the go.
Ah. “Available DC Fast Charging capability,” which means extra cost, and GM is a bit more cautious with its range estimates: “up to 90 miles of range in about 30 minutes of charge time.” If one can find such a charging station, there will certainly be more than enough time to enjoy a cup of coffee, and a burger and fries, and some pie, and… Granted, this appears, if accurate, to be an improvement on existing technology, but level 3 stations are rare as hen’s teeth in most of America, and compared to taking five minutes to fill a conventional vehicle for around 400 miles of range, it’s still less than impressive. Here’s where the real fun comes in:
We’re still not entirely sure how much the Bolt will cost, but Chevrolet says the MSRP will be under $37,500 before any rebates or tax incentives are taken into account. Since its 60kWh battery qualifies the Bolt for the most generous federal tax credit ($7,500), you should be able to pick one up for $30,000—slightly under the average US car price of $33,000.
Uh-huh. And that’s which model of the Bolt, with which options, exactly? If the Volt is any guide, each and every EV will cost substantially more than the MSRP, which is designed primarily to bring people into the showroom for a bit of bait and switch. Let us all take a deep breath, gentle readers, and remember that we–every taxpayer–is paying for every EV sold, and if we didn’t, virtually none would be sold. Remember too that in some states, which give tax credits for buying EVs, non-EV driving citizens are also subsidizing the green self-esteem of EV drivers.
It might be wise to remember, particularly if you own any GM stock, that GM has never made a penny on a Chevy Volt. In fact, it has lost amounts estimated up to a quarter million per vehicle. There is no indication the profit potential for the Bolt is any brighter.
Reality is a hard thing. There are only three ways to squeeze more mileage out of any vehicle: make it more aerodynamic; make it lighter; make it more fuel/battery efficient. Several of the articles I’ve read suggest the Bolt is only a smidgeon smaller than the Volt, which is likely utter nonsense. The Volt is a compact car. The Bolt appears to be a mini, which, from photos, appears to be slightly smaller than a Ford Fiesta, a conventionally powered small car which gets around 40 MPG and a 400 mile range, and can be had in reasonable trim for far less than $30,000.
The Bolt is designed to compete with the Tesla 3, a vehicle–and environmental reality–I addressed in Electric Vehicles: The Tesla 3 Invisible Car (April, 2016):
All of the world’s electric cars sold so far have soaked up £9 billion in subsidies, yet will only save 3.3 million tonnes of CO₂. This will reduce world temperatures by 0.00001°C in 2100 – the equivalent of postponing global warming by about 30 minutes at the end of the century. Electric cars will be a good idea, once they can compete – which will probably be by 2032. But it is daft to waste billions of pounds of public money on rich people’s playthings that kill more people through air pollution while barely affecting carbon emissions. The Tesla 3 is indeed a ‘zero emissions’ marvel – but that is only because it does not yet exist.
Am I suggesting no one buy a Bolt? No. It the vehicle meets your needs, and if you have the money, and conventional vehicles to plug the transportation flexibility gaps with which any EV is saddled, have at it. However, until the federal government no longer keeps the EV industry afloat with my tax dollars–and I contribute plenty–I have every reason to be critical of what amounts to green pipe dreams of a technology that does not live up to its promise, doesn’t meet the minimum transportation flexibility needs of most Americans, costs too much per unit, and does not come close to being the environmental savior some praise.
I live in the Dallas/Ft. Worth Metroplex and drive on its main highways every week. Since the Volt has been available to the public, I’ve seen perhaps six of them, and I suspect several of those were the same vehicle. This in a thriving economy, and a climate nearly ideal for maximizing EV battery range.
The Bolt appears to be an improvement on current technology, but it still doesn’t have the means to compete, one on one, against other vehicles in its size class. I don’t expect to see many Bolts either.