Among many impressive debuts at the 2015 Detroit Auto Show, the Chevrolet Bolt EV concept stood tall among the pack. With 200 miles of range at a price point near $30,000, it sounded like the Tesla Model 3 of the future had a competitor on its hands.
Then we learned the Bolt’s price was including the federal incentive that may not exist in 2017 and Tesla’s estimate of $35,000 was a pre-rebate price. As the automaker somehow managed when pricing the Cadillac ELR, General Motors is actually planning to charge a higher base price for its upcoming vehicle than an automaker with a much better reputation.
Chevy Bolt won’t undercut Model 3
What do electric vehicles need to do in order to reach the mass market? They need to be affordable and offer drivers enough range to get through 90% of the trips they take in a year. With the Chevrolet Bolt, GM attacked both problems directly, and that was impressive. GM even did the industry one better by designing the Bolt in the image of a BMW i3. The first red flag came when AutoblogGreen pressed a GM official on the base price of the future Bolt. According to the report, the $30,000 quote includes the federal rebate of $7,500. Translation: the Bolt will cost $37,500.
While it’s true that the headlines would be messier with explanations of pre- and post-rebate pricing, the situation became awkward when Elon Musk said the Model 3, Tesla’s answer to an affordable long-range EV, would cost around $35,000 before incentives. (Musk must have enjoyed detailing the Model 3 price structure in Detroit.) So maybe the Bolt isn’t quite the “Tesla killer” publications have made it out to be. For many auto enthusiasts, the episode recalled the Cadillac ELR release that turned out to be a debacle for GM.
Cadillac ELR: No Model S killer
When it came out, journalists wondered whether the Cadillac ELR, that plug-in hybrid that runs on the Chevy Volt powertrain, would be competition for the Tesla Model S. Clearly, GM believed it was in the same class by pricing it at $75,000, or about $5,000 more than the base Model S. Let’s just say that didn’t work out so well for the General.
Nearly everyone considered the car overpriced, so matched against the top-rated Tesla, there was no choice for EV consumers. (By the way, the base Model S offered 170 more miles of electric range and 200 more horsepower than the ELR.) Cadillac sold 1,041 units of the ELR in 2014; according to Autoblog Green estimates, Tesla sold 29,606 units of the Model S. So much for “Tesla killing.”
This lesson in “Tesla killing” or even “Tesla fighting” is important. To compete with the Model 3 head-on, the Chevy Bolt would need to match the future Tesla in performance. Elon Musk’s automobiles are defined by their exquisite performance, which is hardly the reputation of GM’s electric hybrid fleet. If the Bolt EV has a higher price than the Model 3 and the two launch around the same time, Chevy better have a winning product on its lots.
Otherwise, who’s to say it won’t have the same fate as the Cadillac ELR? After GM conceded defeat with the hybrid Cadillac and dealers slashed prices on the ELR, it has become the forgotten plug-in car, except when bloggers write their list of “biggest car busts.” With a higher price and much more to prove than Tesla, we hope GM comes correct with the Bolt EV.