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Ford Fiesta
credit: wikipedia.com

I owned a 2011 Ford Fiesta.  Fast, good handling, comfy, a pretty large cargo area, if the back seats–which did not provide a flat cargo floor–were down, and an honest 40 MPG on the highway.  It was a great little car, but Mrs. Manor and I are not, by any stretch of the imagination, petite, and when the Escape was available in 2013, we traded in our Fiesta for a great deal more interior space.  It was a great little car, but a very small car.

Chevy Bolt
credit: Mark Matousek/BI

I last wrote about the then relatively new Chevy Bolt in June of 2017 in Sort Of: The Chevy Bolt.  That article features excerpts from an Autoblog.com review of the vehicle on a 270 mile–one way–trip.  It was not encouraging.  It’s about time to review the Bolt once again, and for that, we go to Business Insider.com:

When General Motors’ Chevrolet Bolt EV was released in late 2016, it was billed as the car that would take electric vehicles mainstream.

One of the biggest obstacles to widespread electric-vehicle adoption has been range anxiety. If an electric car can’t handle a commute to work and a couple of errands without approaching an empty battery, it’s difficult for people to rely on it as an everyday vehicle. With a $37,495 [premier $41780] price tag (before a $7,500 tax credit) and a 238-mile range, the Bolt was the first non-luxury electric vehicle to allow for over 200 miles of driving per charge, beating Tesla’s Model 3 to market by seven months (though Tesla has yet to deliver the $35,000 base version of the vehicle).

A very optimistic fellow…

Price, where EVs are concerned, is not a positive selling point, and it’s going to get worse soon, as Cnet.com reports:

General Motors has reached 200,000 electric-vehicle sales, Reuters reports, citing a person familiar with the matter. The federal tax credit phase-out will begin in April 2019, when it will fall from $7,500 to $3,750. It will be halved again this coming October, and GM’s federal incentive will cease to exist in April 2020.

What this means is a matter of simple math.  The base Bolt, beginning in April of 2019, will be only $33,745, and full price –no tax rebate–a year later.  The Premier version, without any additional accessories, will be $38,030 and full price respectively.  Remember that this is not a reduction of the sticker price, but a reduction of tax liability, which, depending on one’s tax liability, may or may not be worth much, and will not lower one’s monthly payments a cent.

Let’s compare the Bolt with a current Ford Fiesta ST hatchback, a vehicle in the same general size category.  The ST starts at $22,215, and the lower cost, more basic Fiesta starts at $15,135.  That’s a difference of $18,610 in base models, and $15, 815 for the higher priced models.  When the federal subsidy expires for good, that would be $22,360 and $19,565 respectively. The 2019 model year is the final year for the Fiesta and most of Ford’s sedans, but I trust the point is clear.  Vehicle costs depend on a variety of factors, primarily options, but subsidies or not, the difference in price for vehicles in the same general category is substantial.  Most Americans have better places to put their $15,000 to $22,000 dollars.

No, that’s not an engine, but it provides some perspective on how much room there is from the windscreen to the front bumper.
credit: Mark Matousek/BI

Back to Business Insider’s review:

I spent a weekend with the 2018 Bolt in July — my first experience driving an electric vehicle in real-world conditions for more than an hour — and understood the hype.

But it quickly became clear that range is not the final challenge that electric vehicles face before they can begin to take a significant share of the auto market. (Electric vehicles currently account for about 1% of global auto sales.) Unless you have the ability to charge an electric vehicle at your home, apartment, or workplace, using one as your primary vehicle can create significant challenges. And even if you do have frequent, convenient access to a charger, taking a road trip presents serious logistical headaches — particularly if you don’t own a Tesla.

One should also keep in mind that manufacturer’s, and EPA, range figures for EVs have always been–let’s be kind– optimistic.  Even using the heater or air conditioner will drastically reduce any EVs range, as will using head and taillights.  Cold weather seriously depletes range, as do headwinds, driving at altitude, climbing hills–even a more or less continually rolling highway–as does carrying more weight than just a driver.  Some of these factors affect conventional vehicle mileage as well, but not to the degree an EV is hit, and gasoline is cheap and plentiful.

The Premier is the Bolt’s premium trim, adding roof rails, heated seats, and several driver-assistance features to the standard version. The Bolt I drove also had fast-charging capability and extra tech features like wireless charging, a premium Bose speaker system, and USB ports in the back seat.

When I first got in the Bolt, it estimated I would have about 260 miles of range. When I returned the vehicle, I had driven 198 miles and had an estimated 55 miles of range left.

Keep in mind these are estimates generated by the Bolt’s on-board computer, which can be changed immediately and drastically by the aforementioned factors.  Their accuracy is suspect, and miles remaining can change with warp speed.  Regenerative braking, which provides a small amount of batter charge, is also a feature of the Bolt.

You can also use a paddle on the left side of the steering wheel to access regenerative braking on demand, similar to how you’d use the brake pedal. The paddle was useful on highways or uncluttered streets, but in heavy traffic it didn’t provide enough force to keep a comfortable distance from the car ahead of mine, even at very low speeds.

The Bolt’s tight interior.
credit: Mark Matousek/BI

Why roof rails?  It’s not a styling feature.  The Bolt is a tiny vehicle.  Roof rails make it possible to carry some things that would otherwise be impossible. The Bolt is, by all accounts, well designed with the common features contemporary drivers have come to expect, but not all:

While I adjusted to many of the Bolt’s features within a few hours, the gearshift never felt natural. Between my two experiences with the Bolt, it took me nearly 10 hours to figure out how to shift from ‘low’ mode to ‘drive’ mode without putting the car in neutral.

The seat-side compartment behind the gearshift was also difficult to use. Opening it requires you to push down and back simultaneously, a process that wasn’t always immediately responsive. I got the sense that the compartment could cause distractions even for longtime owners.

Relatively small matters to which one would presumably eventually adapt.  Adapting to this, however…

During my second day with the Bolt, I drove around New Jersey to avoid the traffic in Manhattan. I used Apple CarPlay to find nearby charging stations, and it appeared I had a decent number of options. But things went downhill from there.

Four of the five charging stations I navigated to weren’t visible from the street. I wasn’t able to find the first two. The third, pictured above, was down for maintenance, and the fourth was occupied.

It took about two hours to find a charging station that worked and had an opening. That’s enough time to disrupt a road trip and raise serious questions about the convenience and reliability of US charging infrastructure, particularly if you don’t own a Tesla. (Tesla has over 1,300 charging stations in the US, available only to Tesla vehicles.)

Tesla existing and “opening soon” charging stations.
credit: Tesla

That sounds like a great many, but this is a very large country, and in much of flyover country, there are few or no Tesla charging stations.  That works out to about 27 a state, but of course, they’re not distributed that way.  Kansas has none, North Dakota, Montana and Wyoming are pretty much out of luck, and in many other states, stations are so few and far between as to be essentially useless for trips of any duration.  Most charging stations of any pedigree are currently on the east and west coasts.

The station I used was able to add about 25 miles of range each hour. I would have had to wait at least three hours to add a significant amount of range and nine hours for a full charge.

That charging rate would make a long road trip nearly impossible — though a ChargePoint fast-charging stations can add 90 miles of range in 30 minutes, which would be less convenient than a gas station but wouldn’t completely inhibit long-distance driving.

The one upside to the charging station was its price, which was a little over $1 an hour. But given the opportunity cost of the extra time you spend charging, the overall value of a charge is most likely closer to a fill-up at a gas station, unless you can let the car charge overnight.

Level one charging stations are 120 volt house current.  To fully charge an EV like the Bolt takes about 59 hours–about 2.5 days!  A level 2 charger, which is what the author of the article was using, takes about 9 hours for a full charge.  There are a small number of level 3 chargers available, which promise a full charge in 2 hours, but they are scarce indeed.  Even a six-hour road trip could easily be expanded to two days, if one could find a level 2 charger when and where they needed it, if it was working, and if no one else was using it.

When it comes to features that affect the driving experience — ride quality, handling, acceleration, driver-assistance features — the Bolt excels. But without a comprehensive, easily accessible network of charging stations that can fill most of a long-range battery in close to the amount of time it takes to fill a non-electric car with gas, the commercial potential for the Bolt and other electric vehicles is still limited to those with reliable access to a charger at home or work.

And that only if their daily/normal usage doesn’t exceed the potential range of their EV.  TheVerge.com has an article with a video of a bit less than 7 minutes on a weekend test of the Bolt.

the Bolt’s Munchkin-proportioned back seat.
credit: Mark Matousek/BI

With the Volt going the way of the Dodo, Chevy is putting its EV hopes in the Bolt.  But those hopes are meager.  The Bolt is, after all, a compact car, without room for four for more than short jaunts, and with all of the aforementioned limitations.  Like the Volt, it’s unlikely Chevy is making a penny on the Bolt, which is never a smart move for a business that wants to stay in business.  EVs remain about 1% of the vehicle market, and even with the full federal subsidy, the people buying EVs were among the top 7% economically.  Such people will likely be relatively undeterred when that subsidy vanishes if they want greenie street cred.  They’re the kind of people that can afford a third or fourth vehicle for fun, but that doesn’t put a penny more in GM’s corporate pockets.

The quality of contemporary vehicles–including the Bolt–is, compared to the past, very good, but all vehicles have to meet their owner’s needs, and most Americans need far more flexibility, reliability and size than the Bolt will ever provide.  With Ford and Chevy switching to more SUV and truck production, expect the Bolt to follow in the tire prints of the Volt.