Following the official reveal of the Chevy Bolt last week at CES in Las Vegas, rumors began to spread that the Chevy Bolt was strictly a compliance car intended to please regulators in California and give General Motors some much needed emissions credits so it could continue selling its highly profitable SUVs and pickup trucks.
Not so, insists Kevin Kelly, manager of electrification and fuel cell technology communications for General Motors. At the Detroit auto show, he was asked by Jeff Cobb of Hybrid Cars.com if Chevrolet could build as many as 50,000 Bolts a year if the demand is there. “There is nothing constraining us from doing that,” Kelly said.
Some industry observers think having so much of the car sourced from LG Electronics in Korea could be a problem. LG is responsible for the electric motor, power inverter, on-board charger, electric climate control compressor, battery cells and pack, high power distribution module, battery heater, accessory power module, power line communication module, instrument cluster and infotainment system. It has invested $250,000,000 in its factory in Inchon, Korea so it can produce all of those components Chevrolet requires. The cars themselves will be assembled at Chevy’s Orion assembly plant in Michigan.
Others note that Chevrolet does not have a dedicated charging network like Tesla does. The Bolt will use the Combined Charging Standard (CCS) system. It is not compatible with the CHAdeMO standard Nissan uses, although many DC fast chargers offer cables for both. Nor is it compatible with the Tesla SuperCharger network. The Tesla system uses higher power equipment that can boost a depleted battery up to 80% in about 30 minutes. The CCS protocol requires an hour or more to do the same thing.
GM says there are about a dozen car makers who use the CCS system now. It thinks that consumer demand will drive the installation of more charging stations as more electric cars take to the road. Futurists wonder if Tesla’s comprehensive network will one day become the industry standard, handing Tesla a huge advantage in the marketplace. Don’t think for a minute that Elon Musk hasn’t thought of that.
“Chevrolet needs to be disruptive in order to maintain our leadership position in electrification,” say Mark Reuss, GM’s executive vice president of global product development. “By taking the best of our in-house engineering prowess established with the Chevrolet Volt and Spark EV, and combining the experience of the LG Group, we’re able to transform the concept of the industry’s first long range, affordable EV into reality.”
Much of the Bolt’s success will depend on how soon Tesla can get its Model 3 to market. It is projected to cost about the same as the Bolt and have similar range. Tesla has been late getting its other models to customers. Both the Model S and Model X were two years behind schedule when production finally began. If that same pattern holds, Chevrolet could have as much as a three year head start and be well on its way to establishing its own brand loyalty before the Model 3 becomes avaiiable.
Chevrolet is facing some headwinds of its own, though. Many people still think of it as the company that killed the electric car more than 20 years ago. And Chevy’s overall quality and customer satisfaction ratings are well behind those of Tesla. Still, Chevy Volt customers love their cars, which have proven extremely reliable in real world service.
Interesting times ahead for both Chevrolet and Tesla. It will be a few years before we know who winds up disrupting who.