It appears that the future of the automobile, well the foreseeable future at least, will be wedge-shaped, have interesting looking video game inspired shift levers, and whisper down the road. After spending some time with Toyota’s fantastic all-new 2016 Prius, the hybrid almost synonymous with the concept, I’ve have been looking forward to seeing what Chevrolet would do with the forth-coming all-electric 2017 Bolt. Based on nearly universal praise rolling in for the wagon’s debut at the 2016 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES), I can honestly say that I am impressed.
The electric vehicle concept is certainly nothing new; I even bought one at Toys R Us for my kids when they were pre-school age. However, the current EV models come with constraints that are not easily ignored. Whether it is the roughly 100-mile range of vehicles like the Nissan Leaf and Kia Soul EV, or the exclusive pricing of Tesla’s glorious Model S, the real-world practicality of affordable EV ownership is rather limited. Taking these inherent problems into consideration, the Chevrolet automotive think tank designed the 2017 Bolt.
All Things New
Rather than yanking out the gas tanks from an already existing vehicle, Chevy designed and built the five-door, five-seat EV from the ground up. There is a lot of value in the approach. For instance, the long wheelbase allows for plenty of room to accommodate the large battery pack that acts as a structural element that results in 25 percent of the Bolt’s torsional stiffness. The wheelbase also provides the small wagon with plenty of interior space. The 94.4 cubic feet of interior passenger volume and the 16.9 cubic feet of cargo space are similar to numbers you would find in an EPA-assessed midsize car, extending the EV’s usefulness for families looking to replace the gas-powered hatchback, compact crossover or even the not-so-exciting but very grown-up midsize sedan.
Rolling Around Quietly
While I wasn’t on hand to drive Chevy’s new wonder-wagon at CES, the consensus is that the Bolt has plenty of power that is available, in true EV fashion, instantaneously. Chevy suggests that zero to 60 mph should be attainable in less than seven seconds. The driving dynamics appear to be in check, if not a little ahead, of all of the Bolt’s competitors and from what I’ve seen the Bolt may be the first non-luxury EV that will make you wonder why we waited so long to ditch the petrol. We will need to wait for the North American International Auto Show for the exact details and I will hold my final judgement until I spend a week or so behind the wheel.
Loaded with Tech
It wasn’t a coincidence that Chevrolet used CES as the launching grounds for the new EV. The Bolt is loaded with excellent standard technology features. General Motors has been parading the brand’s powerful 4G LTE Wi-Fi connectivity for a while and with great success. The system is easy to use and can provide data to multiple devices with more authority than a smartphone connection. As you would expect, the Bolt uses the Internet connection to enhance its drivability and user-friendliness.
The Bolt also utilizes a sizeable 10.2-inch center console display and an additional 8-inch screen for the instrument cluster. The center display has more in common with a tablet computer than the traditional touch-screen interfaces available in many of today’s vehicles. By using “simple, intuitive gestures” occupants can control many of the car’s systems, explore the vehicle’s efficiency and range, and connect a smartphone to use Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.
A third screen, located in the rearview mirror, provides a real-time 80-degree display of what is going on immediately behind the car. The digital rearview mirror truly seems like the future and the best part is that if for some reason the system stops working, it can still be used as a regular rearview mirror too.
Electric Driving Range
One of the major inhibitors of the public’s consumption of all-electric vehicles is the limited driving range of the current offerings. With a range of up to 270 miles, the Tesla Model S is the one true exception. However, with prices starting north of $70,000, the Model S certainly has a limited audience. Chevrolet studied the driving habits of what they determined to be the Bolt’s core potential owner and decided 200 miles would be the perfect goal for a real-world electric vehicle.
While the actual numbers are yet to be released, GM predicts that the Bolt will travel 200 miles on a single charge. Further, plugging into a professionally installed 240-volt charging unit for an hour will give the Bolt around 25 miles of range. At that rate, GM claims that the EV will receive a full charge in about nine hours. Hook up to a level 2 charger and the Bolt EV’s batteries will be 80-percent full in about an hour.
2017 Chevrolet Bolt Pricing
You can accomplish almost anything if you throw enough money at it. Tesla has proven that if a consumer is willing to pay close to $100,000, they can buy a vehicle that does everything the Bolt promises and of course, much more. However, Chevy’s concept was to build a practical EV that just about anyone could afford, and while the predicted base price of $37,500 isn’t exactly economy car status, GM is quick to remind us that with tax credits the actual pricing will be much closer to $30,000. That isn’t exactly pocket change, but when you begin to consider the reduction in monthly fuel costs the price tag quickly comes into alignment with many comparably equipped and sized gas-powered vehicles.
I always find it interesting that when I describe EVs I feel like I am continually making concessions. I have even found myself defending the concept, price point and overall necessity of the EV segment in the marketplace. When writing about the all-new 2017 Chevrolet Bolt I have found that it is one of the first electric vehicles that I haven’t had to ponder the EV gremlins that have haunted so many almost ready for prime time examples of the past. I really think that 200 miles a day is a reasonable range and I also feel, at least from what I’ve studied, that the Bolt EV truly warrants its price tag.
All that said, when you sit down and run the numbers, a full-efficient subcompact vehicle like the incredibly roomy 2016 Honda Fit is a compelling alternative to Chevy’s Bolt. The design is similar, the utility is almost equal, and the Fit only requires a quick stop at the gas station to keep going almost indefinitely, with driver fatigue being the only significant limitation.
So why do we need a car like the Bolt, even when gas prices are down well below $2 per gallon? The answer is both philosophical and slightly prophetic. We need the 2017 Chevy Bolt because of what it represents for the future.
Gas will not stay below $2 per gallon forever, and even if you argue that we have plenty of the stuff, no one can argue that we have an infinite supply. Eventually vehicles will need to run on something other than gasoline and it isn’t hard to see electricity being the primary fuel of choice. Without automakers making the kind of bold moves represented by the Bolt, we might betray a bright automotive landscape for the not-so-distant future.
I’m a car guy. I love my old 1971 Datsun 240z turbo. I love the way it sounds and smells when it is burning fossil fuels. More than anything, I love the freedom that being behind the wheel affords me. The future has yet to be written of course, but for me I’d much rather see folks driving around in silent electric vehicles than having to primarily rely on group-based public transportation. I have nothing against the subway, but if we look 200 years down the road and it is the only way to get from point A to point B, it will break my heart.