Concept cars at automobile shows generally offer the following: great opps for selfies, dreams over driving a vehicle that will never exist and, of course, the occasional eye roll. But this week at the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit, one concept car dazzled because of its design and its potential to transform the automobile industry: General Motors' (GM) Chevrolet Bolt EV, which could hit the market as soon as 2017.
The Bolt is a huge step closer toward the holy grail of electric vehicles (EVs): affordability and sustainability — the latter of which in this case is defined by range, the current bugaboo of most EVs. Sure, we love Tesla for its phenomenal design and range of 265 miles between charges. Unfortunately, the sticker price, which ranges between $70,000 and $90,000, is out of range of most of our budgets. GM’s Chevy Spark EV could be a car for the rest of us, with a price of about $20,000 after federal rebates. But with a range of about 82 miles, it fails to snag interest from most consumers due to that massive hurdle: “range anxiety.”
This electric car, however, hits a sweet spot. On Monday during its introduction at Cobo Hall in Detroit, GM executives, including CEO Mary Barra, touted its $30,000 price after federal tax incentives, along with its promised range of 200 miles. Considering the average commute per day hovers around 50 miles, this four-door hatchback could snare plenty of interest in the coming decade.
The Bolt is riding the coattails of its cousin, GM’s Chevy Volt, which is enjoying increased success and praise despite the ongoing naysaying about the future of plug-in electric cars and the fallout of batteries catching fire not so long ago. But as GM representatives repeatedly reminded me during my time in Detroit, Chevy Volt owners rank as the most satisfied automobile owners across the board.
Their obsession with driving hundreds of miles without having to fill up, affection for the car’s design and enthusiasm over how the car performs on the road have created a cult following any brand would kill for. The 2016 Volt promises even more, including an overall lighter car, quieter ride, that all-important fifth seat in the rear and the ability to drive 1,000 miles between gasoline fill-ups. If GM can deliver on these new features, that goodwill can carry over to the future release of the Bolt.
The Bolt’s range and price could deliver a one-two punch that entrench EVs into the mainstream. True, current cheap gas prices offer somewhat of a threat: Sales of trucks, after a decade of stagnation, are surging. But the stubborn truth is that oil prices will spike again; we just don't know when. And one reason why Volt owners are so enthusiastic about their cars ties in to our current busy lives, real or perceived — few of us enjoy the task of filling up at the gasoline station. Add the fact millennials are ever keener on having a car that does not have the conventional internal combustion engine (and avoiding cars, period, if they can), and we see more reasons why GM could have a potential goal mine in the Bolt.
Long vilified for its burial of the EV1, and viewed suspiciously for its venture in electrified cars, GM’s latest move signals that the automakers are getting it. An EV with mass appeal could transform the automobile industry — and fluster the oil companies in the process.
Image credit: Leon Kaye
Based in California, Leon Kaye has also been featured in The Guardian, Clean Technica, Sustainable Brands, Earth911, Inhabitat, Architect Magazine and Wired.com. He shares his thoughts on his own site, GreenGoPost.com.
Disclosure: GM covered the cost of Leon Kaye’s attendance at NAIAS.