Chevy Bolt

Chevy announced the new Bolt, a fully electric car. They managed to keep their promise and sell it under $30M via a $7,500 tax rebate. The premium trims start at $3M more. The car has a range of 238 miles, with a 60 kwh battery.

238 mile range is OK. Not great, but usable in most driving situations.

Chevy is making this out to be some sort of huge achievement. But compared to comparable gas cars, it makes very little sense. Especially cost-wise.

The Bolt is similar to a Honda Fit in size – the Bolt is 4 inches longer, and 3 inches wider and higher. A well equipped Fit costs about $20M vs. the base model of the Bolt which is $30M. It’s not really fair to compare a base model to a premium trim but what the heck. The difference is $10M more for the Bolt.

Assumption 1: If you have solar panels on your home, and you only charge the Bolt during daylight hours, your fuel cost will be zero. At zero fuel cost, it will take 141k miles to recoup the $10M difference in price between the Bolt and the Fit.

Assumption 2: If you don’t have solar panels and you pay $.17kwh for electricity, it will take 357k miles to recoup the $10M difference in price between the Bolt and the Fit.

In both assumptions I pegged the fuel cost of the Fit at $2.50/gal and 35mpg or $.071/mile.

So, getting the Bolt appears to make sense, from a cost savings perspective, only if you have solar panels and charge it during daylight hours, and you expect to drive the car more than 141k miles.

Since small cars are not really known for their longevity, and since this is made by Chevy, which has a poor reputation for reliability, the Bolt really seems like a bad choice.

The upcoming Tesla Model 3 is in the same price range. But people buy Teslas for other reasons – they are cool, they have status, they are fast, they have cutting edge features that won’t be available from other car companies for years. People get excited when you drive a Tesla. That’s not going to happen in a Chevy.

I give the auto industry credit for doing this. Electric cars can never become ubiquitous if the car companies don’t keep building them. But it would be nice to see a car company consider practicality as a feature. Anyone doing the math is going to be disappointed in how long the Bolt takes to break even vs. a gas car. You’ve got to really love this car to be willing to spend extra for it. Is Chevy capable of making a truly desirable electric car?

Right now the most popular electric-ish car is the Prius, which is a hybrid. Most of the Prius models only take gas, but use it to manufacture electricity. The car runs on self-produced electricity and sometimes the gas engine kicks in as well. It’s a practical car, although pricey compared with 100% gas competition. Given the relatively low price of gas, sales of the Prius, by far the favorite electric-ish car, are off by double digits.

Why would people buy the Bolt when the more practical Prius is having trouble selling?

One day all cars will be electric. But by then I think the entire auto industry will change with the advent of totally autonomous cars.




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