Why Is GM Only Planning 30,000 Chevy Bolts Per Year?

 

One of the biggest electric vehicle announcements of the year so far was the surprise Chevy Bolt announcement from GM in January, the revealing of an affordable, long-range electric car from a major manufacturer. This is the second “affordable” and “long-range” electric car announced by anyone, only trailing the Tesla Model 3. But it is actually supposed to go into production before the Tesla Model 3.

2015 Chevrolet Bolt EV Concept all electric vehicle – glass ro
Chevy Bolt via GM

With Nissan selling approximately 20,000 affordable, 84-mile Leafs a year in the US alone, and Tesla selling a similar if not higher number of its expensive but long-range electric cars in the US alone (~50,000 world wide), one would think that there would be a huge market for an affordable and long-range electric car like the Chevy Bolt. Even if limited to the US, 30,000 Bolts a year seems absurdly pessimistic. So, why the low target?

Two big reasons come to mind. The first potential reason is that GM doesn’t want to be too optimistic and then get crushed in the media or tarnish the EV market if it doesn’t come close to the target. This already happened with Nissan, because Nissan assumed the many benefits of EVs would lead to much higher Leaf sales. Aside from simply being cautious for that reason, GM may also be scared that buyers would choose the Tesla Model 3 over the Chevy Bolt — that’s certainly what the initial results of our EV owner & lessee survey indicates.

2015 Chevrolet Bolt EV Concept all electric vehicle – front ex 2015 Chevrolet Bolt EV Concept all electric vehicle – rear ext





However, I think it’s another factor that is really holding back GM’s target — projected battery supply. An EV Obsession reader made the point pretty clear in a recent comment on the site (minor edits implemented):

“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.”

I don’t think I could have explained the situation better. LG doesn’t have the production capacity, but it is not going to risk a big increase in production capacity until its customers (GM, Volkswagen/Audi, Renault, Ford, etc) show that they can and will sell enough electric cars to warrant it.

Of course, without the ramp-up in production, it is harder for LG to bring down battery costs, so we have a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem here. It seems like the best-case scenario right now would be if the Chevy Bolt demonstrated huge customer demand, prompting LG to “quickly” ramp up production, but that is still likely to put LG and all the automakers that rely on it at least 2–3 years behind Tesla.

It’s an interesting situation. If you have more insight on the matter, we’d love to see it in the comments.





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is the director of CleanTechnica, the most popular cleantech-focused website in the world, and Planetsave, a world-leading green and science news site. He has been covering green news of various sorts since 2008, and he has been especially focused on solar energy, electric vehicles, and wind energy since 2009.

Aside from his work on CleanTechnica and Planetsave, he’s the founder and director of Solar Love, EV Obsession, and Bikocity.

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  • This is one of those areas where we diverge in our thinking because you’re a “clean tech guy” and I’m a “car guy”, in the sense that I think 30,000 units is pretty ambitious for a company who is making more news for killing people in recalls than making sales records.

    • Haha. I guess it’s the difference between incremental auto company change & disruptive technology change.

    • David R

      I agree completely. I would have a hard time buying a GM product given their historic record for disregarding their customers. I think they will always be a few steps behind a company like Tesla. It’s almost like they need a spinoff brand for their electrically themed nameplates. Good luck getting Joe Salesman excited about selling a low or no profit electric after he just sold a $80K, 4×4, extended cab “luxury” pickup. That a surprising number of the 99% can somehow afford. Although their record for spinoff brands (Saturn) is also not so good…

  • TedKidd

    Because they don’t plan on having it Supercharger enabled, so it’ll be a boutique EV rather than an early majority vehicle.

    Or maybe because they projected selling 250,000 volts, then ended up selling like 10k a year.

  • Joe Viocoe

    Well, even GM seems to know that this is a tentative limit based on not having a Gigafactory for batteries.

  • Doug Meserve

    Hmm… so major car makers can’t *build* enough batteries. Is this why they (Toyota, at least) keep pushing H2 FCVs and slamming BEVs? It’s not necessarily that they think that battery technology won’t be there… it’s that *they* won’t be able to get *enough* of them to compete with Tesla…

  • JeremyK

    I’d like to see some real sources sited on LG battery capacity, not some comments from an anonymous Tesla fanboy.

    It’s true that the LG site was never “built out” to it’s full intended capacity, but this goes against the author’s argument. What this means is that LG in Holland MI has a great deal of OPEN capacity, just waiting for a program like this.

    Clearly the people speculating on industry battery capacity for automobiles, don’t work in the auto industry. When a company like GM/Nissan/Brand X send out a request for quote (RFQ) to their suppliers, part of that quote package is an estimate of what the required volumes will be (+/- some %). A supplier can’t accurately quote unless they have some kind of idea what the volume is. This takes place YEARS before production begins. Yes, YEARS!

    For ease of example lets use a part that has a 1:1 ratio with parts:vehicles like a water pump impeller. The plastic molding machine that makes the impeller is capable of producing 100K parts per year. If the volumes are higher than 100K, then the supplier needs to order another molding machine. The best price quoted by the supplier will be in increments of 100K. i.e. making 100K parts/year is more profitable for that supplier than making 150K parts/year because only one molding machine is fully utilized, but they need two to 150K parts. Adding capacity is almost never a big deal as long as the volumes are high enough. It just requires lead time.

    GM will have plenty of time to determine what the take rate will be for the Bolt. They’re not going to sell all 30K on the first day. If GM sees that sales are going better than expected, they just ask LG to add capacity. Every component on the vehicle goes through this quote process. I think 30K is a very realistic volume considering the number of players that are going to be competing for this very specific buyer (200 mile pure EV). By 2017 there will be at least three OEMs that have cars in this segment (GM, Nissan, Tesla) and those volumes are going to be split between them. Other models will also steal sales away, for example some Tesla buyers may decide they want to upgrade to the model S or X, some might go for Volt 2.0 or the many other PHEV variants likely to be on the market by that time.