LAS VEGAS—Today at CES, General Motors’ CEO Mary Barra will formally unveil one of the most significant new cars in the company’s history. It’s called the Chevrolet Bolt, and when it goes on sale later this year it will be the first long-range battery electric vehicle that’s truly affordable. In fact, GM says that after the $7500 IRS EV tax credit, the Bolt will cost under $30,000, making it cheaper than the average new-car price ($33,560 in 2015, according to Kelley Blue Book). Not bad at all for an EV with a 200-mile range.
Some of the car’s specifics—like the exact price and the size of the Bolt’s battery pack—were unavailable at the time we we went to press, so we’ll update it once GM makes them public. However, we were able to get behind the wheel, as you’ll see in the video above.
The Bolt first appeared as a concept car at last year’s Detroit auto show, and it was greenlit for production a month later. That process will begin later this year at GM’s Orion Assembly plant in Michigan. Based on our (admittedly short) drive, it’s a really compelling car. Described to us by Pam Fletcher (Chevrolet’s chief engineer for EVs) as a crossover—you might also think of it as a hatchback—it’s a full five seater with plenty of room in the back and decent trunk space, something enabled by the car’s “skateboard” chassis. It has a single electric motor up front that drives the front wheels, and judging from our laps of Chevrolet’s CES test track it’s a fun car to drive too.
As with the Chevrolet Volt (a plug-in hybrid EV), it has two driving modes: D and L. The second of those ups the amount of regenerative braking (something you can increase further with a paddle on the steering wheel), letting you drive the Bolt with a single pedal (similar to BMW’s i3). And for the racers out there, there’s even a sport button, although as with any car electric or conventional, expect a heavy right foot to cut into your range. It’s no slowpoke, though—0 to 60mph takes less than seven seconds, and with most of the car’s mass so low down, it corners well with little body roll.
The car that we drove was a pre-production prototype—the interior was camouflaged, the light clusters weren’t the final version, and there was a big red kill switch common to test vehicles—but we did get a chance to play around with the infotainment system a bit as well. There’s a 10.2-inch touchscreen on the dash, which uses a customizable widget-based UI on top of the latest version of GM’s MyLink platform. According to Fletcher, once initially paired with your phone, the Bolt will connect instantly via Bluetooth whenever it’s in range. It uses that connection to configure the car to your settings—something that should be most appealing for the ride sharing crowd. (Fletcher told Ars that the car was actually designed with ride-sharing in mind.)
One of the two pre-production Bolts that Chevrolet brought to CES for us to drive.
This is the Bolt concept, seen here at the 2015 Chicago Auto Show.
This was the concept’s interior.
Here’s an official press picture from Chevy.
And another press shot with copious amounts of blur.
Other neat touches include the way the door sills drop down to improve access to the front seats (a bit like the McLaren 570S) and the rather clever rear-view mirror which uses the car’s rear view cameras to offer an 80˚ field of view of what’s going on behind you. This eliminates the traditional blindspots caused by the c-pillars.
The car’s price has been made possible by the rapid pace of lithium-ion battery development. Although Chevrolet wouldn’t comment on the cost of the Bolt’s battery cells, last year it let slip that LG Chem was able to supply it with cells at $145/kWh. We were also unable to draw any info from Fletcher on expected production volume for the car, but it’s plausible that General Motors may become the first car maker to sell enough EVs to the point where the IRS tax credits may be phased out.
Listing image by Jonathan Gitlin