Chevy talks the Bolt, its nemesis Tesla, and why cheap gas isn’t bad for EVs

The 2017 Chevrolet Bolt is a five-door hatchback the size of a Nissan Versa, but don’t let its size fool you — this little EV is a very big deal.

Set to go on sale at the end of this year, the Bolt will cost just $30,000 or so after incentives are factored in, and for the money, you’ll get a high-tech greenmobile with 200 miles of range. This type of performance-to-dollar ratio was unheard of in the EV world until recently, and with the hotly-anticipated Tesla Model 3 being unveiled on March 31, the Bolt is under a tremendous amount of pressure to succeed.

At the 2016 New York Auto Show, we fought through the crowd to snag a few minutes with Chevrolet’s Darin Gesse, the Product Marketing Manager for the Bolt EV and Volt plug-in hybrid. Here’s what he had to say.

Digital Trends: Can you describe the ideal customer for the Volt and the Bolt EV?

Darin Gesse: The Volt, with the extended range capability, brings a customer that wants to get into electric driving, but there’s a situation where they drive long distances on the weekend or once a month and a pure electric won’t work for them. It could also be from a confidence factor — they’re not willing to take both feet and step in the water; they want to put one foot in and one foot out. This is the best way to go about doing that, to experience electric driving and still have that extended range backup.

The Bolt EV is really going to be for that customer that wants to go full-fledged, both feet in. Their driving patterns and lifestyle allow for a 200-mile EV range to fit in, or they may have a second or third vehicle for extra trips.

Let’s talk Tesla. The Bolt’s main rival, the Model 3, will be unveiled on March 31. We don’t know everything about that car yet, but in your mind, what sets the Bolt apart?

2017-Chevrolet-Bolt-EV-interview_0017

I’d say the main differentiation right now is we’re going to be ahead of them to market by at least a year if not longer, depending on how they deliver on their promises. We certainly are offering a vehicle that comes with a dealership network that’s nationwide, so for any maintenance items or accessories — or if you need to bring it in for service — it’s local, it’s within your community, and it’s with people you know. These dealers have been entrenched in communities for years and they’re a mainstay. People trust them and they’re part of the environment they live in.

The Bolt’s electric motor, battery pack, and infotainment system will all come from LG. That’s relatively unprecedented, can you talk us through why Chevy decided to go that route?

For the battery at least, it was a simple decision. They’ve been our partners on the Volt as well as the Spark EV, and they’ve been producing battery cells for that. It’s been bulletproof and we have nothing but the highest confidence in what they do as far as chemistry. In fact, I’m happy to say that out of 85,000 Volt owners, not a single battery has been replaced due to a capacity loss. That’s a testament to the quality that LG delivers for us, and they’ve been able to expand upon that with power electronic components. Certainly it made sense for us to go with them, to partner with them. They are delivering on all the goods.

The Bolt concept was revealed at the 2015 Detroit Auto Show, and it’s going on sale at the end of this year. That’s a quick turnaround. Was the collaboration with LG instrumental in getting the car out sooner?

Being able to drive with one pedal is going to be a cool feature everyone’s going to love.

Certainly when you’re working with a partner that you’ve worked with for several years, the relationships are there. [LG] is a known entity, a known quality, so we know how we can stress each other and get things done a lot faster.

In terms of the big picture, was the Volt developed with the idea that an all-electric Bolt would follow up down the road? Was a high-range pure EV a plan from the outset?

Yes, in theory and in concept we knew that an all-electric vehicle was the direction. But when the Volt launched originally in late 2010, there weren’t really a lot of charging stations, so it was one of those ‘chicken and egg’ things. We had to offer a solution that would allow those charge stations to support it, but that also in an environment without charge stations you could still operate the vehicle.

There’s a lot of talk about low gas prices lately, is that a big concern for your team?

We’re keeping an eye on it. Obviously, low gas prices are helping us in other ways in the portfolio, so we’re really proud that at Chevrolet there’s a full line of diverse products that, regardless of the environment, we can satisfy customer needs. But we’ve been doing research about how gas prices have affected the sales of vehicles like the Nissan Leaf, Tesla Model S, and other EVs, and really we haven’t seen much of a correlation. It seems like if a customer decides to buy an EV, they do it regardless of gas prices. And it could be the fact that they just don’t want to be involved in that gas price story; they don’t want to be concerned about it, but there are other elements. It’s an inconvenience to pull off to the side of the road and have to fuel up the vehicle. If it’s raining or cold outside, it’s an inconvenience to get out of the comfort of your vehicle just to pump gas. So there are other values and benefits to not stopping at a gas station.

Do you have projected sales numbers for the Bolt yet?

We don’t give out sales projections, but what we’ll tell you is that we’ve capacitized the plants to meet expected demand. We did purposely put the Bolt EV in a plant that also produces two other products — the Chevrolet Sonic and the Buick Verano. The purpose of that is to have some flexibility. If one product is doing really well and the other product not so much, we can still keep the plant running at a constant pace. Same thing with the Chevrolet Volt, we put that in [the Detroit-Hamtramck plant] which also produces the Chevy Malibu and Impala, allowing us to have some flexibility and run the plant based on how demand fluctuates.

The Bolt has a lot of cool features like the Rear Camera Mirror, low-energy Bluetooth system, and obviously the powertrain. What do you think buyers will be excited about the most?

The one technology that we’re expanding upon is called one pedal driving — the ability to put the vehicle into low gear. When you let your foot off the throttle, it immediately starts to decelerate. Then we have a feature that we’ve trademarked called Regen On Demand, which is a paddle on the steering wheel to increase that regenerative [braking] effect. With the Bolt EV, we’ve taken it to the next step of actually being able to stop the vehicle without touching the brake pedal. It will actually hold the vehicle in place even at a grade of five percent. Riding in taxi cabs here in New York City, I can imagine that whole gas-to-brake process can be annoying after a while. Being able to drive with one pedal is going to be a cool feature and everyone’s going to love that one.

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