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Driving Change

Chevy’s dead Bolt locks door to fleets, consumers

The demise of the Chevy Bolt leaves a hole in the marketplace and raises questions about EV transition.

Two Chevy Bolts, red and gray, parked next to each other

For the past three quarters, the Chevy Bolt broke its own sales records. Image via Shutterstock/Jonathan Weiss

It was a sad day late last month when GM announced plans to discontinue the Chevy Bolt. GM CEO Mary Barra said during an earnings call that "obsolete battery design" was a key reason for its demise.

This makes sense, especially as new EV consumers are increasingly looking for fast charging options. Considering the Bolt’s charging speed topped out at 100 miles of range in 30 minutes, it made sense to transition to a battery system capable of faster fueling. The new Ultium battery platform will improve the speed at which the battery charges, but die-hard fans might ask why GM chose not to develop a Bolt on the Ultium platform.

That question remains puzzling, especially as Bolt sales are booming. For the past three quarters the Bolt broke its own sales records. In Q1 of 2023, sales of the Bolt reached almost 20,000 units. And, according to Inside EVs, "Compared to the overall volume, the Bolt EV/Bolt EUV represent about 4.9 percent of the total Chevrolet sales."

Yet financial analysts who keep score recognize that a few good quarters do not make up for the cost of transitioning to all-electric. An analyst at Morgan Stanley found that over 95 percent of GM's revenues are "currently internal combustion derived." 

And GM is not alone in balancing its transition to EVs with a reliance on revenue from internal combustion engines. Ford’s latest quarterly earnings call revealed it plans to lose billions on its path to electrification. Its newly minted Ford-E brand posted more than $700 million in losses during Q1. But both Ford and GM are playing a long game that should pay dividends once their factories, vehicle development and battery R&D are fully built out. Even Tesla’s Elon Musk praised the deficit strategy as "smart."

How does this affect fleets?

Without the Bolt, American automakers are leaving a gaping hole in the light-duty fleet market. From low-cost delivery services, to couriers and governments, the Bolt was a no-brainer for light-duty electric fleets. 

For instance in late 2022, Domino’s Pizza announced plans to add 800 Chevy Bolts to its delivery fleet. Ed Peper, vice president of GM Fleet, said, "With an affordable price, fun driving characteristics, and a 259-mile range, the Chevy Bolt EV is the future of Domino’s electrified deliveries." But that future turned cold faster than a late delivery pizza. The end of the Bolt, with no heir apparent, represents a major loss for delivery drivers. 

The problem goes beyond just pizza. Governments looking for the lowest upfront costs to electrifying proudly purchased Bolts for their fleets. For example, in January, New York City announced it purchased 382 Bolts, 360 Ford E-Transit vans and 150 Ford F-150 E-Lightning pickup trucks, of which the Bolt accounted for over 40 percent. It was the small vehicle of choice for the city. This added to the nearly 850 Bolts already in the New York City fleet. For city workers who do not need to haul, arrest or chase, the price and size fit the city’s budget and congested streets.

But what will become of these fleets when it’s time to replace the Bolt? What affordable, over 250-mile range, urban-sized vehicle will fill this niche?

Green questions

Then there are the concerns about whether the trend toward larger EVs will ultimately benefit the environment and consumers’ pocketbooks. Some eulogies for the Bolt did not mince words:

Gizmodo: "The Death of the Chevy Bolt Is Bad News for Earth"

The Verge: "GM killed the Chevy Bolt — and the dream of a small, affordable EV"

The Information: "GM’s Baffling Decision to Kill the Magnificently Priced Bolt EV"

A common thread running through even the kindest coverage was that discontinuing smaller vehicles while increasingly producing larger vehicles was not optimal for sustainability.

Resources such as critical minerals ranked among the highest concerns. Larger electric vehicles require bigger, more resource-intensive batteries to achieve the speed and range consumers expect. Mining rare earth metals such as lithium, cobalt and nickel have significant environmental and humanitarian impacts, which will only be exacerbated by the growing production for electric SUVs and pickups.

And while transitioning to EVs is a critical step to mitigate climate change, larger vehicles — even if they are electric — are still harmful to the environment. The production of their component parts, such as steel, plastics and circuitry, all include embedded carbon emissions. Additionally, according to a study by Peter Huether of ACEEE, "Inefficient and heavy EVs have lower environmental impacts than similarly sized gasoline-fueled cars, but they underperform more efficient EVs." The study found:

A comparison of three models that are available in both electric and gasoline-fueled versions — the Mini Cooper Hardtop, Volvo XC40 Recharge Twin, and Ford F-150 — demonstrates that while the EV versions have lower environmental impacts than their internal combustion engine (ICE) counterparts, heavier and less efficient vehicles cause more environmental damage, whether they are gasoline-fueled or electric.  

Put simply, Huether said, "Not all electric vehicles are created equal."

Finally, what about consumers who want or need a low-cost vehicle? The 2023 Bolt’s starting price at $27,495 made it the cheapest EV available. Mercifully, GM’s new electric Chevy Equinox will start at $30,000, but that’s still much more expensive than an equivalent gas-powered vehicle. The Bolt was also the least expensive EV that qualified for the latest iteration of the federal EV tax credit. This will eventually affect the used car market where 70 percent of American consumers purchase their vehicles.

Ultimately, the Bolt will be missed. And, for the sake of our planet, our pocketbooks and our pizzas, I hope a new vehicle will fill the Bolt-shaped hole in our hearts.

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