Does the Chevy Bolt EV Make the Chevrolet Volt Irrelevant?
Sometime during the last three months of this year, the first 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV will be delivered to its buyer in a blaze of flash photography and publicity. The 200-mile electric car, base-priced at $37,500 before incentives, will be the first car in the world with those specifications. And it will bring battery-electric vehicles with ranges of 200 miles or more into the mass market well ahead of the promised Tesla Model 3.
Electric-car advocates have waited eagerly for the Bolt EV, which was unveiled by General Motors CEO Mary Barra as a concept less than two years ago at the 2015 Detroit Auto Show. That was the same show, remember, at which she first introduced the new 2016 Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid, a much-improved second-generation version of the ground-breaking Volt that had launched in 2011.
Since then, the Volt has received excellent reviews from many outlets, among them this site’s 2016 Best Car To Buy award. But plug-in hybrids have proven very hard to explain to car shoppers, who “get” that battery-electric cars run only on battery power (like a cellphone) and hybrids run only on gasoline but get better gas mileage than regular cars.
So with the Bolt EV offering 200 miles combined of all-electric travel, at a price only $3,000 or so higher, where exactly does that leave the Volt? It’s worth noting that in the Volt’s best sales years, 2012 and 2013, it sold around 23,000 units a year. Suppliers have suggested that Chevrolet’s production target for the Bolt EV over its first 12 months is around 30,000.
That number, however, likely includes some units not only for the U.S. and Canada, but also South Korea and certain European countries. And GM has said it’s not production-limited, so if Bolt EV demand proves greater, it can build more.
The latest Volt is selling decently, holding at a pace of about 2,000 units a month in the U.S. and 400 a month in Canada, which could bring it to a combined North American total around 25,000 units or more.
Still, Chevy continues to face the challenge of explaining why the Volt offers the advantages of an electric car for eight or nine of every 10 trips, without range anxiety. We don’t know anything yet about how it plans to market the Bolt EV, but we do know its Volt marketing has been exceptionally targeted—meaning the car gets little national or broad-based exposure.
Instead, Chevy is working hard to find more buyers very much like those who have already bought Volts. They tend to be knowledgeable about the benefits of plug-in cars already, and in many cases they know far more about the Volt than do the salespeople they encounter at dealerships.
Chevrolet has also maintained that its 3,200 franchised U.S. dealers give it an advantage over Tesla, though aside from pervasiveness, it’s not clear what advantages they convey to tech-savvy buyers used to purchasing pricey electronic goods online. The biggest problem for the Volt, though, is simply in comparing it to the Bolt EV.
The all-electric car has 200 miles of range, which is expected to reduce range anxiety greatly for potential buyers who felt that the preceding Chevy Spark EV’s 82 miles of rated range simply wasn’t sufficient. The Volt was the response to that—”electric when you want it, gas when you need it”—but how much is its selling point reduced by the presence of a Bolt EV next to it on the showroom floor?
Both cars are small five-door hatchbacks by U.S. standards. The Volt has sleeker, racier lines but a more cramped interior, while the Bolt EV is far more spacious inside than its upright shape and small footprint would suggest.
So what advantage, exactly, does the Volt have over its newer, cooler sibling? As always, the market will answer that question.