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GM sees EV Bolt as a game changer

It's been the short circuit that's zapped electric car sales from the start: Why can't consumers buy a reasonably priced electric car and drive it a typical distance before having to recharge?

The Bolt , a small crossover, can hold five passengers.
The Bolt , a small crossover, can hold five passengers.Read more

It's been the short circuit that's zapped electric car sales from the start: Why can't consumers buy a reasonably priced electric car and drive it a typical distance before having to recharge?

Now, like lightning from the sky, comes the Chevrolet Bolt EV - an electric-powered, five-passenger crossover that's been generating interest all year, and that during its attention-grabbing visit to the Los Angeles Auto Show won 18 awards.

With a starting price of $37,500 before government rebates and an advertised range of 238 miles, it could be the holy grail of electric vehicles.

Tesla plans an affordable Model 3, a five-passenger vehicle with a 215-mile range with a price expected to be around $35,000. But production isn't expected to start until the middle of 2017, and people reserving one now won't see it until mid-2018, according to the Tesla website. The Bolt will go on sale in California in December and will be in area showrooms in a few months.

Chevrolet spokesman Fred Ligouri said the company sees the Bolt as a significant boost for the market for electric vehicles.

"We definitely see it as a game-changer," Ligouri said. "It's the first vehicle available with this kind of range at this cost."

Others are taking more of a wait-and-see approach.

Kevin Mazzucola, executive director of the Automobile Dealers Association of Greater Philadelphia, is skeptical about the role of electrics and hybrids in the marketplace, although the range and price may make the Bolt EV a different story.

"It's just been hyped so long, and the marketplace still isn't there with low gasoline prices, but the Bolt may be different," Mazzucola said.

One hang-up for electric cars has been infrastructure - how can a driver recharge the vehicle on the road in a reasonable amount of time?

Level 3 charging stations - which use a commercial-grade 480 volts, four times the available power of a standard home outlet - have increased from 350 in the United States in March to 840 now, Ligouri said. Quick charging at these stations can add 90 miles of range in 30 minutes. The special cord required for this is a $750 Bolt EV option.

But the Bolt EV still hasn't solved the recharging riddle. With a 240-volt (Level 2) charger, the car requires almost 10 hours for a full charge from a dead stop. A regular outlet like those found in most home garages - a 120-volt - would add just four miles of driving time to each added hour of charge.

Ligouri said the Bolt EV also offers versatility. It's a small crossover, so it's the kind of vehicle buyers today want.

With 56.6 cubic feet of space behind the front seats and 94.4 cubic feet of passenger space overall, the interior of the Bolt EV is just a bit smaller than a Kia Soul. That's still a little on the small side, but more useful than the smaller Volt.

Jessica Caldwell, senior analyst for the automotive research and news site, said the Bolt's dimensions likely will not be a great boon to sales.

"It's just a tough sell for a lot of people," Caldwell said. "Sixty-two percent of the [2016] market is light trucks."

As long as they're Chevy light trucks, Ligouri doesn't care. Cars like the Bolt EV draw customers to dealers like discounted items do to grocery stores; once people are there, they may find something else they'd prefer, Ligouri said, and Chevrolet still makes money.

Caldwell agreed.

"I think it will get public interest in terms of, 'Oh, lets check this out,' " she said.

Performance can be another selling point. Electric cars are peppy because no transmission gears are needed to provide the most power from the engine. In other words, it's all torque, all the time. Chevrolet advertises a speedy 0-60 time of under seven seconds.

Don't expect to see samples here until after the first of the year, Ligouri said.

Clamor for electrics and hybrids - at least in pre-Bolt times - has not been that strong, according to the Automobile Dealers Association of Greater Philadelphia.

Mazzucola said about 2.6 percent of vehicles sold in Philadelphia and its four suburban Pennsylvania counties have been hybrids or electrics. Electrics alone account for just 0.3 percent of the local market.

That is reflected in the larger market.'s Caldwell said the market share for EVs and hybrids is 2.7 percent for 2016, down steadily from a peak of 3.7 percent in 2013. Philadelphia's numbers showed a slight uptick from 2015 to 2016, but remained flat overall since 2013.