In 2011, when General Motors and LG announced a partnership to build electric vehicles together, average gas prices peaked near $4 per gallon and Adele had a new album. Maybe some things change — maybe they don’t — but Chevrolet recently confirmed it would not only build a car based on the Bolt EV concept, but actively try to sell it, signaling a seismic shift for the automaker and a potential groundswell for consumers in the near future who’ve considered EVs but balked at the range of low-cost cars. (The Bolt will purportedly boast a range of more than 200 miles.)
Sales of electric cars have relatively stalled since gas prices started shedding cents faster than a coming-of-age Hollywood star. It’s hard to imagine how an automaker in their right mind would consider coming to market with anything other than a crossover.
The Bolt, which may arrive as soon as next year, also can’t escape its second strike — its subcompact stature. If EVs don’t sell well, subcompacts turn away buyers almost as frequently — sales of compact cars plunged 10% in October. Yet, GM persists in its plan to not only sell the EV, but also build the EV in its Orion Township plant. The car, which will be assembled using many components sourced by LG Chem (which produces the battery for the Volt) will represent a major leap for the automaker in its relationship with its suppliers and how it builds future cars.
GM’s facility at Orion, which was once managed by GM chief Mary Barra, is considered to be one of the most advanced plants operated by the automaker. At least $500 million has been invested into the plant over the last five years, which updated its three lines to help produce the Sonic (which shares a skeleton with the Bolt), Volt, and most likely an upcoming small SUV for Buick. Despite slowing the plant down earlier this year, it’s clear the automaker envisions a future powered at least partly by electrons — and by a niche subcompact that bucks the current sales trend.
“The message from consumers about the Bolt EV concept was clear and unequivocal: Build it,” GM North American President Alan Batey said at the Detroit Auto Show. “We are moving quickly because of its potential to completely shake up the status quo for electric vehicles.”
When it starts production in late 2016 and goes on sale in 2017, it’s possible that consumers may not be allowed the same lucrative federal incentives that EVs offer buyers today. According to estimates, the federal government may at the end of its $7,500 tax incentive afforded to 250,000 hybrid or electric car buyers. That could signal a much more complicated and difficult future for the Bolt, as evidenced by EV sales in Georgia; sales of EVs in that state plummeted after the state ended an incentive there this year. Other places such as British Columbia, Canada, have ended their incentives only to bring them back again, which could be comforting to GM, considering the car’s anticipated $30,000 price tag, after incentives.
According to reports, GM would likely lobby the federal government to consider extending its rebates for additional EVs beyond its initial allotment. Regardless, considering the current economic climate and state of the auto industry, it’s clear that EVs — and subcompacts — face an uncertain future in a marketplace where cheap gasoline and consumers’ hunger for more space are driving them to bigger, thirstier models on the lot. But it appears GM is doubling down on their take for the future: It’s partially electric powered, and it’s in small cars.
General Motors appears to be headed back to the future.
Like classics? It’s always Throwback Thursday somewhere.