Like a lot (2) of early Chevy Bolt owners, I gave up my three-year lease recently and surrendered the 238-mile compact EV to my local Chevy dealer. It is the first time I’ve been back to the dealer since I picked up the car and nothing had changed. Mine was, again, the only EV on the lot.
I got an extra month because NY car dealers were closed for the pandemic, but I didn’t do much extra driving, and GM Financial has been wishy-washy on whether they are going to bill me extra for not being able to turn it in. I asked both GM Financial and the dealer if I could buy the car out at a reasonable price months ago. Both only offered me the sticker price, which was a non-starter at more than a new 2020 Bolt.
And that’s a theme I encountered with GM and the Bolt. I really loved the car, but the company behind it was a whole lot harder to love.
I got my first taste of the Chevy Bolt way back at CES in January of 2016.
Chevy Bolt 2016
Pam Fletcher, the engineer who had previously headed up the Chevy Volt’s revolutionary powertrain and propulsion system design and was essentially the person who brought the Bolt to market, gave us a very thorough tour. Electrek wasn’t the EV publishing behemoth it is now, so it was flattering to be one of only a few publications to be given a personal tour of the Bolt by its creator.
I was instantly hooked. Small on the outside but with tons of room inside, it didn’t fit any traditional car’s description. Chevy started calling it a “Micro-crossover,” which absolutely no one stuck with. To this day, I think they should have marketed it as a “hot hatch” family car category and had people be shocked by how much room it has both in front and back as much as the driving experience.
From day one, the driving experience was my favorite thing about the Bolt, yet it was never touted even once in GM’s marketing. Sure, subsequent press events had Autocross component, but every single person I gave a drive to was surprised it was such a fun car to drive based on what they’d heard about it. Another common theme: It looks small on the outside but relatively huge on the inside.
The Bolt had at the time the best CarPlay/AndroidAuto experience with a 10.2 inch iPad sized display as well, which was exciting in 2016. The Bose sound is fantastic and a pleasure to listen to. GM touted the OTA updates experience as something that would be bringing new and fancy things to the car over the years. That never happened, and I ended up hacking updates so I didn’t have to visit the dealer. Software is incredibly hard for legacy carmakers.
So I bought one of the first Chevy Bolts to reach the East Coast in early 2017. My experience there should have been a huge warning sign that this company was not ready to sell an electric car — especially one as awesome as the Bolt. I had to call three separate Chevy dealers in my area who all had different waiting times and had heard different things about delivery dates. No dealer knew the difference between DC fast charging and Level 2 charging. Each one had their own “EV guy” who was the only one at the dealership that had any knowledge of, or interest in, selling a Bolt. Each dealership had different prices and required a ton of haggling just to get the sticker price.
To make a long story short, it was not a good experience getting the Bolt. It took two full days of haggling and paperwork just to get a car that was already physically on the lot for the price advertised. The “EV guy” was nice enough and owned a Volt “for a period of time” but incompetent in getting me my car. No one else on the lot would even discuss the car with me. I vowed never to return to that place.
At home with the Chevy Bolt
The Bolt quickly became my go-to car even though officially it was my wife’s car. It was just easier to get into, maneuver, drive and park than my 2013 Tesla Model S. For medium/longer drives and particularly ones that required fast charging, I preferred the Tesla but for running the kids to school, shopping or just normal errands, I picked the Bolt every time.
While certainly unique, the Bolt is way more low key than a Tesla, which carries a certain world view — and that was before its CEO went on Pedo and COVID Twitter rants. I just want to drop off my kids at the store, not talk to people about panel gaps and range anxiety.
And while it doesn’t have a frunk, there is still a ton of space in the back for groceries and other typical items. You can even fit a folding fat tire bike in the back without even putting the rear seat down.
Bolt EV Quickness
Even though the Bolt doesn’t have a Ludicrous mode, it does get going from a stop pretty quick. Unlike ICE cars that you drop the pedal on, it immediately lurches forward and smoothly goes all the way to 92mph if you let it. Everyone I let drive it was impressed by the 200hp acceleration and not just from a standstill. On the highway, you feel like a man among men with the ability to gain 20mph at a moments notice.
Compare to an ICE car, where if someone floors it, the car drops into a low gear way too long, makes crazy noise, jerks the car around as it shifts. People look at you like you are crazy.
In fact, after a month with the Bolt I wrote this:
10 things I like better on the new 2017 Chevy Bolt vs my 2013 Tesla Model S
Chevy Bolt Downsides
There were some downsides with the Chevy Bolt, but they were small and mostly inconsequential. The seats weren’t super comfortable, but they didn’t really bother me except maybe on long trips offering little lateral support for sharp turns. The interior was also kind of basic. There’s a neon blue light that is kind of cool, but it looks like an entry-level car interior.
The stick shift is also annoying. You have to push a button to move the car in between gears and it defaults to drive without regen braking. This is fixed in the 2021 version as well as having a more luxurious interior.
The 54kW CCS Fast DC Charging speed wasn’t great in 2017, but it is horrible speed now and will be worse when Chevy introduces the 2021 Bolt and 2022 Bolt EUV with the same charging speed.
The front tires, with all that torque spin all. the. time. Rain? Spin. Gravel? Spin. Very smooth road? Spin. It made accelerating out of driveways onto main roads a little stressful. I had a conversation with a GM engineer a year ago, and he said he was surprised to hear that. Every other Bolt owner says the same thing though. But sometimes it was fun to spin the tires off a stop sign with the kids.
But that’s really it. As I said, I love just about everything about this car.
Looking forward with the Chevy Bolt as a guide
Like I’ve been saying, something bad must have happened at GM with their EV program. Pam Fletcher got moved off the program and it seemed like everyone left except a skeleton crew was supporting the Bolt. It was like “Who Killed the Electric Car” all over again.
GM had a huge lead with the Chevy Bolt over arguably everyone in the under $50,000 space. Obviously Tesla came on strong with the Model 3, but I’d argue a raised hatchback is still an important segment and one that could be popular if done right. Since then, Hyundai/Kia and a few others have come along and stole the Bolt’s fire. What has Chevy done since 2016?
Last year Chevy invited us up to Seattle and Portland to drive the new 2020 Chevy Bolts. While the trip was fun, the Bolt itself was almost exactly the same car I had at home for close to 3 years already. LG had upgraded the battery pack to 66kWh from 60kWh adding 21 miles to the range, but other than that and some new paint colors, everything else —including seats, top charging speed, tires, interior — was mostly the same. It charges in the cold slightly faster now.
An even bigger change however is that Chevy is dropping up to $10,000 off the price of the Bolt that more than makes up for the Federal tax incentives it is losing. A sub-$30,000 hatchback makes a whole lot more sense than a $40,000 one. Recent numbers have shown it was finally starting to take off before the pandemic.
Even 2021’s Chevy Bolt, while it will look different on the outside and address many of my interior concerns, still has the same 66kWh battery and more importantly slow 54kWh charging. Even 100kW here would go a long way to making road trips more manageable.
So to recap, the five-year journey from 2016 to 2021 wasn’t one ripe with innovation. But Chevy started with such a great car that 2021’s is still a great buy.
GM Charging network?
Let’s put aside the 54kW charging speed which was acceptable in 2016 but painful in 2020 and frankly embarrassing going forward. Even the competitors besides Tesla who advertise 100kW aren’t really going to charge that much faster because of the charging profile. But GM is doing almost nothing to help out their customers’ range anxiety.
We’ve heard rumblings that GM would be trying to reinforce the smatterings of CCS combo networks out there with their own network – even if it is initially only for their own employees. Two separate GM employees on the Bolt program at two separate events each told me that they don’t drive their own product because they can’t make it to the next state over. I’m sure my blank stare didn’t convey the absolute confusion at this. If your employees aren’t buying this car because they either don’t know how to quick charge or there aren’t fast chargers available to travel from Detroit to Chicago and Indiana, then how the heck do you expect customers to be comfortable?!
As I’ve said previously, GM hasn’t marketed the Bolt properly. It isn’t just an EV, which is no longer such a big deal. But it is still the fastest car in its class, rides higher, and has a ton of room. It is great! No one knows about it. Doug DeMuro had a good take in 2018 which holds today.
Instead of great marketing on EVs, this is what I’ve seen from GM’s electric group:
If you could design your dream #EV, what would it look like? Today, our designers will walk you through the process of designing a car of the future. Watch the full #ElectrifyingEngineering episode at: https://t.co/lTAx4eseUK pic.twitter.com/sIxpb51z30
— General Motors (@GM) June 21, 2020
Car dealers are so bad
I know there are good EV-focused car dealers out there, and obviously Tesla only sells EVs, but for the most part, car dealers are a nightmare and one of the reasons I really don’t want to deal with GM again. They know nothing about EVs, they tried on multiple occasions to steer me toward an ICE SUV, and they are frankly unnecessary middlemen that offer me no upside.
This is the problem that really irks me as an EV advocate. GM has continuously sided with the Trump administration on the rollback of emissions standards, even as more and more states are siding with California. As my colleague Brad put it, their Orwellian PR that supporting Trump’s rollback would somehow help EVs is not only an obvious lie but also intellectually insulting. Every time I hear it, I’ve wanted to go kick my Bolt. Brad also just gave back his three-year Bolt lease and doesn’t sound like he’s going to get another one.
Is this the kind of company I want to support? I know a lot of readers and soon-to-be-former Bolt owners are in this camp, and that doesn’t bode well for GM’s upcoming EV lineup either. This catastrophe falls in the lap of GM CEO Mary Barra and president Mark Reuss.
GM’s EV products are good, but…
The upcoming Hummer EV looks amazing in person but it is already out shadowed in mindshare by Tesla’s Cybertruck, and I’d even argue Rivian’s pickups. Cadillac’s AWD Lyriq also looks super tempting, particularly the interior, but will it outdo Audi, Porsche, Mercedes, etc EVs, let alone Tesla’s Model X? What they showed off at EV day blew us away, but, from a technology perspective, it doesn’t satisfactorily beat what’s already out in the market now.
The Bolt was great when it was the only low cost, long-range game in town. But now there is the Niro, Kona, Soul EV, Leaf+, and of course Tesla’s Model Y.
GM is going to really go that extra mile for consumers, but that’s not at all what I’m feeling from this company as a now-former customer.
Producing a great EV isn’t enough. GM did that with the Bolt four years ago, and here we are. Even with an amazing car that I loved and frankly didn’t want to get rid of, I have almost no desire to jump through the mental and physical hoops required to get another one.
GM looks to have a bunch of other quality EVs coming in the next few years, and, as cool as they are, I’m still hesitant to deal with the company and its “issues”.
EVs have to be supported with the right environment and the right politics from the brand. We know GM isn’t there yet. Will they get there in time for the next wave of EVs? I hope GM can take this as constructive criticism and right the ship.
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