I want to start by saying that I think the Bolt is a great initiative from GM and I am glad to see this major car manufacturer committing more seriously to pure electric vehicles. This article is not a hit piece on the Bolt, but rather a critic of the reporting around the vehicle. Recently some media have been implying that the Bolt might be a “Tesla killer” or more precisely that it is going after Tesla’s third generation vehicle currently in development, the Model 3. These claims are unfounded and derive from this bad habit of seeing all electric vehicles as one big car category.
No one in their right mind would see the Mercedes S-Class as a competitor to the Nissan Versa, for the same reasons, the Nissan Leaf is not meant to compete with the Tesla Model S. In both cases, one is a large luxury sedan and the other is a compact five-door hatchback. They don’t address the same markets regardless of both having drivetrains fueled by gasoline, in the cases of the Versa and the S-Class, and electricity for the Leaf and the Model S.
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The media have this tendency of treating EVs as if they were all on the same level on which you can only compare them by range or pricing.
The Bolt is an EV in development with General Motors. It is expected to have a range of more than 200 miles and a starting price of “$30,000 after tax incentives”, meaning it will likely start at $37,500.
On the other hand, the Model 3 is an EV in development with Tesla Motors. It is expected to have a range of more than 200 miles and a starting price of $35,000. If we were to stop here, it would be clear to anyone that these two vehicles will be direct competitors, but it is not this simple.
GM unveiled the Bolt concept at the 2015 Detroit Auto Show. It was known that the company was working on a “long-range” electric vehicle, but we didn’t know what the car would look like. EV enthusiasts were nervous ahead of the unveiling since car manufacturers have an inclination toward creating weird or unnecessary futuristic designs when it comes to electric vehicle concepts. Although not a beauty, I was glad to see that the Bolt is not a “weird-mobile”. At the unveiling, we also learned that the Bolt will be a five-door hatchback. The overall design and size are not unlike another Chevrolet, the Sonic:
I don’t think it is too far-fetched to say that the Bolt is shaping up to be an electric Sonic.
As for the Model 3, we have yet to see the concept car and the company only has “early engineering prototypes”. Elon Musk, Tesla’s CEO, said the company is aiming to unveil the vehicle in March 2016. What we do know about the car, aside from the expected range and pricing, is that Tesla plans for the Model 3 to be a BMW Series 3 competitor. Keeping up with their luxury car brand, the company is planning on making the Model 3 a mid-luxury vehicle, for which they want to offer a sedan version as well as a crossover version.
If we rely on currently available information, the gasoline-powered counterpart of the Model 3 is shaping up to be the BMW Series 3, while the Bolt’s seems to be the Chevrolet Sonic. Much like the Nissan Versa is not competing with the Mercedes S-Class, although not as obvious, the Chevrolet Sonic is not competing with the BMW Series 3.
In other words, GM is making a $37,500 car that would sell for $20,000 if it wasn’t electric, while Tesla is trying to make a $35,000 car that would sell for $35,000 if it wasn’t electric.