It’s often expected for new models to receive low reliability ratings, but Chevy has bucked that trend with the Bolt. In Consumer Reports’ new reliability ratings released yesterday, while Chevy as an overall brand scored relatively low (18th place), the Bolt came in as the most reliable car the manufacturer sells, out of 15 models (the highest number of models of any manufacturer ranked by CR).
This is great news, because the Bolt is a great car in pretty much every other way too. It won Motor Trend’s Car of the Year and many other awards, and we really like it, even though it’s not without its quibbles. Despite all these awards, sales initially lagged (though they’re picking up as the car is made more available nationwide), so perhaps CR’s rating will help GM sell some more Bolts – if they actually want to. We’ll see if Chevy puts the Bolt, their most reliable car, front and center in its national ad campaign about winning awards for reliability.
Given that the Bolt has only been out for about a year now, and the survey (which goes out in April) only covers the first six months of production, it’s quite exceptional that these very early cars had so few quality issues. Of course, it could be that some issues might develop as time goes on, and it’s entirely possible that the ratings will drop as the car becomes more widely available or more of them get on the road. But this would be opposite to the standard expectation that early cars tend to have more problems, so it seems that GM has done something remarkable here.
As Consumer Reports mentioned in their analysis of Tesla’s reliability which we reported on yesterday, electric cars will tend to be more reliable than internal combustion cars because the powertrain is much simpler, with fewer moving parts and dealing with much less significant stresses (e.g. no explosions, ideally anyhow). Until now, though, Tesla, the best-known manufacturer of EVs, has not faired exceptionally in CR’s survey, though this is somewhat to be expected of a new manufacturer (and as the article from yesterday states, they do seem to be improving, and the quality issues on the Model X are notably not problems with the powertrain).
But Chevy is not a new manufacturer, so they give us a better idea of what a well-designed EV can do in terms of reliability. The Bolt is really a well-thought-out package, and has several touches which shows that Chevy intentionally designed the car as an EV, not just some retrofit of a previous vehicle platform. It’s still not quite as “from-the-ground-up” as Teslas have been, as the Bolt does share many parts with other GM models, but this emphasis on designing the car around the powertrain has turned out well for GM.
Another thing to note in the rankings is that the i3 is BMW’s least reliable car. But this isn’t necessarily an issue with electric powertrains, as the majority of i3s BMW sells are plug-in hybrids with the optional “range extender” engine rather than pure EVs. A plug-in hybrid will have even more complexity than a standard ICE, with two powertrains in one, and thus it stands to reason that they would end up having difficulties in terms of reliability.
These ratings show the benefit of EV technology – as electric vehicle advocates have been saying for a long time, if you just design an EV from the ground up to be simple, it will turn out to be much more reliable than an ICE car. For various reasons, most EVs on the road haven’t yet taken advantage of this inherent advantage – either because they’re from a new manufacturer who’s still working out kinks (Tesla), or they’re based in large part on existing vehicle platforms if not just a complete retrofit (nearly everything else).
It will be interesting to see how Tesla’s Model 3 fares when CR actually gets one in hand.