Chevy Bolt Updates, + Awkward Swipes At Tesla

General Motors (GM) seems keen to keep a strong focus on its coming long-range, affordable electric car  — the Chevy Bolt. If nothing else is clear, it’s clear that GM wants to be seen as a leader in the electric car space. After unveiling the concept car in January (the first long-range and affordable electric concept car to be unveiled by any company), the response was strong and GM quickly confirmed that it would indeed build the electric car. If things seemed to be moving along fast then, now they really are — Bolt chief engineer Josh Tavel recently told reporters that the company had “accelerated things.” What exactly that means is not actually clear, though. The Chevy Bolt was supposed to arrive in 2017, but word on the street in February was that production would now start in October 2016. Whether the “acceleration” is in reference to the October 2016 plan, or the production schedule has been moved up again, hasn’t been specified.

2015 Chevrolet Bolt EV Concept all electric vehicle – glass ro

Spy shots have caught Bolt prototypes testing, and Tavel said that GM is now testing 50 of them. We’ve also seen a thorough video overview of the aesthetic styling of the Bolt concept. GM has been getting the word out about the Bolt at just about every big event, with executives from the very top down highlighting it (see below). It seems clear that GM sees electrification as an important part of the future, and thus wants to be a leader in it. “GM wants to stake a claim to this market,” says Jeff Schuster, senior vice president of forecasting at LMC Automotive. However, there are also signs of dishonesty and exaggeration, combined with what seem to be very low expectations (or capability).

2015 Chevrolet Bolt EV Concept all electric vehicle – rear ext

GM CEO Mary Barra recently hyped the Bolt quite a bit to hosted reporters. However, her lines of enthusiasm were sometimes mixed with other messages. Below are a few Mary Barra quotes gleaned from here and here, with some extra comments from me in parentheses:

  • The Bolt is “for regular people, not for the elites.” (At ~$30,000 after he $7,500 federal EV tax credit, that’s basically a given. The need to highlight that makes me think that 1) GM is still feeling a bit butt hurt that it didn’t produce the Model S; 2) GM realizes that electric cars are largely seen as expensive and wants to break up that misperception; 3) the Bolt, despite having a long range, will not be cool and snazzy enough to pull “elites” from Tesla* to Chevy; 4) GM got the “Occupy Wall Street” message and is engaging in some smart PR.)
  • “To make the biggest impact, it takes an engineering organization with the scale and the expertise to build electric vehicles for everyone, not just the elite.” (Hmm… I’m not so sure about that. GM intends to produce 30,000 Bolts a year, a modest figure already surpassed by the Nissan LEAF despite its 84 miles of range. Tesla, in the meantime, aims to produce 500,000 electric cars a year by 2020, most of which would be the Bolt’s competing Model 3. It looks like Tesla is the one aiming to blow things up, not GM.)
  • “You know, I went to Stanford. I did my master’s work at Stanford. And I love Silicon Valley. We work regularly with a lot of companies there. But that’s not the only place where innovation comes from. I love that energy. But there’s a lot of issues you’ve got to work through.  You know, we will.” (That’s great messaging, but again, why is GM only aiming to produce 30,000 Bolts a year while Tesla is aiming to produce hundreds of thousands of Model 3s a year.)
  • “Like the Volt, it will be affordable.” (Yeah, we got that memo….)
  • “Affordability will really pave the way because customers are very rational. [They] are gonna do the math and they’re gonna figure out, ‘Hey, what works best for my use case?’” (Hmm, are you noticing a trend in the messaging?)

2015 Chevrolet Bolt EV Concept all electric vehicle – front ex

The big letdown with the Bolt is that GM only aims to produce 30,000 a year. I assume one of two things is behind this… or perhaps both. 1) GM is concerned demand won’t be higher, and it doesn’t want to end up with a big target that it misses by a long shot (if this is the case, one must assume that GM is much less confident about the desirability of the Bolt than Tesla is about the desirability of the Model 3); or 2) GM simply doesn’t have the supply chain in place (most notably, the batteries) to produce more than 30,000 Bolts a year. If the latter is the case, I think GM is showing just how challenging it is to scale up EV production, and is conceding the win to Tesla despite saying otherwise.

Mary Barra isn’t the only one at GM spreading the Bolt hype, of course. Here are some quotes from Pam Fletcher, GM’s executive chief engineer for electric vehicles, as well:

  • “[GM will make] electric cars approachable to the all, not just the elite.” (Admittedly, it’s very nice to hear a big car company saying this — repeatedly — and referencing long-range electric cars like the Bolt.)
  • “We will make electrification approachable, meaningful, and relevant to all.” (Well, it’s nice to know you will help, but Tesla and Nissan seem to be doing the majority of the trailblazing at this point.)

John Voelcker, the source of most of the quotes above, also quoted an unnamed person “close to the messaging process” (e.g., a PR person who isn’t an official company spokesperson), who got very explicit about GM’s competition with Tesla.


“In electrification, building electric cars for everyone isn’t Chevy’s third priority, it’s the first,” this person said. This seems to be another direct swipe at Tesla, since Tesla first produced a high-end sports car (the Tesla Roadster), then the Model S and sister Model X (a premium sedan and SUV), and next will produce the Model 3 (an affordable, long-range electric car that is supposed to be priced at $35,000 before the US federal tax credit (so, lower than the Bolt).

However, acting as if the Model 3 is a third priority for Tesla is ridiculous. The Model 3 has been Tesla’s explicit priority for years, but the company had to grow from an idea in Silicon Valley to a manufacturing beast, while becoming profitable, within just a handful of years. Very few people expected Tesla to be able to do so, but if it was to do so, it basically had to start at the high end of the market and work its way down. To act is if it could have started with the Model 3 is either dishonest or hugely naïve.

The person quoted above also stated: “It’s Chevy vs. Tesla and it’s on!”

Hmm, that exclamation mark would make a lot more sense coming from someone at Tesla, but I don’t think many people at Tesla would make such a statement. Tesla is on top of the auto world right now. It has one to two models on the market (depending on whether you count the Model X yet), and it already has a market cap of $34 billion, while GM has a market cap of $53.25 billion (no, I’m not going to spend an hour counting up the number of models it sells).

Again, the big kicker for me at the moment is production intent. GM aims to produce 30,000 Bolts a year; Tesla aims to produce hundreds of thousands of Model 3 electric cars a year. If this is Chevy vs. Tesla, what does that tell you?


Nissan LEAF Range Could Triple — Carlos Ghosn Electric Car

Tesla Model X Reservations = ~24,000 (~Twice Model S Reservations Before Production)

*Full Disclosure: I am long TSLA (for obvious reasons).

9 thoughts on “Chevy Bolt Updates, + Awkward Swipes At Tesla

  1. Nicely written.

    Funny GM is like the starving stray dog that, when offered a heaping bowl of food and a bath, bites at its benefactor.

    They don’t see there is endless room in the EV market at this point? They don’t see that working together with Tesla on the common goal of electrification is a huge opportunity to put them ahead of EVERY OTHER MAJOR?

    This stupid thinking may foreshadow a “Kodak” moment for GM. They’re worried about selling film, about cannibalizing film, ignoring digital, and committing themselves to extinction road.

    The first major to partner with Tesla on Supercharging will have serious advantage. It may be so significant that the others can never catch up.

    1. Haha, yeah, I almost stuck something in there about Tesla inspiring the Volt, but decided to leave it out.

      I definitely think the whole “battle Tesla” mentality is stupid and misses several points (and most automakers seem to use it, or the even worse “Tesla doesn’t matter” line of messaging).

      The Bolt looks like it could be a really good vehicle. Agreed that it would be MUCH more attractive if it could use Superchargers. And if the battery supply isn’t an issue, GM would probably fly past its 30,000/year target.

      Am itching to see a major automaker partner with Tesla on the Superchargers, but am afraid they’re all too proud…. We’ll see.

  2. Great job Zach! Great true points. We are all in this together. Keep your friends close and enemies closer. The company that embraces Tesla probably wins. Looking forward to my April ’17 Leaf lease return choices.

    1. “The company that embraces Tesla probably wins.” I agree.

      You should have a sweet buyout option in ’17 😀 But also a lot of enticing EVs on the market to pull you away. 😛 Curious to check in again then!

  3. Not surprised at the Chevy me-too wannabe mentality. The bolt is tall and hideous plus I wouldn’t trust GM quality. That article I read about their EV1 and how they tried to kill EVs also contributed to my sentiment towards GM.

  4. I’m put off by the digs at Tesla. If Tesla was not planning on manufacturing a medium priced EV then the “elites” stuff would make some sense. But given that the Model 3 has been in the works for longer than GM has been talking about the Bolt it makes GM sound silly.

    That out of the way, suppose I buy a GM Bolt where do I charge it if I want to go further than 100 miles from home? Is this to be an EV that I can drive to Grandma’s for Thanksgiving only if Grandma doesn’t live very far away? Where’s GM supercharger system?

    If GM doesn’t bring a rapid charge solution to highways then Tesla is going to have an enormous market advantage.

  5. I find it curious that no automotive journalists have bothered to clarify the exact scenario behind the 200 mile range claim for the Bolt. Is it NEDC, UDDS, JC08, EPA 5 cycle, or what? Obviously, GM has to target the ZEV Type III classification which is 200+ miles of UDDS range which is more like 165 miles of EPA range. Automotive journalists should be familiar with the wide differences between various mileage standards. 200 miles of UDDS range is not the same thing as 200 miles of EPA 5 cycle range.

    It is also curious that there is little information about the battery capacity and horsepower.

    The Bolt is built on GM’s Gamma G2SC platform, which makes it closely related to the Chevy Trax and the Buick Encore. Therefore, it isn’t much of a stretch to get the mules up and running.

    However, battery production is the big thing. They can only build 30,000 because LG doesn’t have that much production capacity. They had never fully built out the Holland, MI LG plant that supplies GM and Ford. They are doing that now. Since LG’s sales of EV related batteries have been really poor thus far and they suffer from chronic underutilization, it is difficult for them to invest the billions into plant(s) expansion(s) beyond finishing to nameplate capacity. That’s why Tesla’s Gigafactory is all that much more remarkable. With Panasonic’s Osaka plants churning out about 8 GWh by the end of next year for Tesla, LG won’t be able to match that level of output within that time period. As a result, all of LG’s customers will be sharing something around 6 GWh of production. With the Tesla Gigafactory then adding another 7 or so GWh of production in its first phase, we’re looking at about double the production capacity over LG. So VW/Audi, GM, Ford, and others that have signed up for LG’s output will share production of less than half of Tesla’s production in 2017. As Tesla brings on more phases, the rest will have to move quickly to even avoid falling further behind.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *