6 Strategic Mistakes GM Made With the Chevrolet Bolt (Part 6): Is It a Hatchback or Crossover?

As I outlined in SUVs & Crossovers: Key To The Next Wave of US Electric Vehicle Adoption, sales of small SUVs/crossovers are hot, hot, hot.

While sales in the hatchback segment are growing again, the segment is only 4.8% of the market versus 39% for SUVs and crossovers overall, and 17.5% for small SUVs/crossovers. On top of the fact that the market that is 3.5 times larger than hatchbacks, there are no affordable electric SUV/Crossovers on the market today.

Now GM and many Bolt owners might argue that the Bolt is a crossover. GM’s Fred Ligouri told me that: “The Bolt EV is a small crossover. It offers upright seating position, higher clearance and the functionality and flexibility of 94.4 cu ft. of pass space and a max cargo volume of 56.6 cu ft.”

I asked my local Chevrolet dealer sales representative during a test drive if “It (the Bolt) was a crossover or hatchback?” and he admitted it wasn’t entirely clear. And that’s my point.

Many Bolt owners agree with GM, but a lot of consumers and industry observers are unsure or have a different perspective. I asked my local Chevrolet dealer sales representative during a test drive: “Is the Bolt a crossover or hatchback?” and he admitted it wasn’t entirely clear.

And Edmunds, the auto industry information company, calls it a hatchback on its website (see below).

Chevrolet Bolt Hatchback-Edmunds

This confusion and the different interpretations are a problem. Consumers typically buy based on categories, and fuzziness means they aren’t sure what to compare it to. The exception, of course, is when you invent a new product category.

In fairness of course, the same fault could be levied against Tesla for launching the Model 3 as a sedan instead of the crossover version Model Y. In Tesla’s case it might have been a platform decision – a scaled down Model S could be produced more quickly than a crossover. But in GM’s situation, the Bolt apparently is built on a brand new standalone platform, meaning Chevrolet could have chosen to build a more SUV-looking Bolt.

Consumers typically buy based on categories, and GM picked a smaller market to compete in.

While you can call it a small crossover, and maybe it is, with a few design changes it could have had more of an SUV look and been viewed as a much more desirable and attractive EV. If GM had designed the Bolt to be more clearly seen as a true crossover or small SUV, it could have been in buyer consideration against hot-selling competitors such as the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV-4, Nissan Rogue and Ford Escape.

Another advantage of entering into the small SUV/crossover category is that the premium versions of these models will often go for more than the higher end hatchback versions, enabling Chevrolet to better compete with a higher priced Bolt model.

Fix: Unfortunately there isn’t a simple fix for this issue as to be positioned as a true small SUV/crossover would require a future redesign.

So the only fix is to market the Bolt’s roominess and height and position those advantages against the likes of the Nissan LEAF. Let’s see some of those advertisements with mountain bikes on top of the Bolt and drivers taking it camping. Give it that appearance of being SUV like.

A Great Car, But …

GM should be applauded for being the first auto manufacturer to promise and deliver on a 200+ mile EV. This is a huge milestone for the industry and proves the forward progress EV are making, especially as battery prices continue to fall.

My points are not to take away from GM’s efforts – as we certainly need more non-luxury manufacturers producing affordable EVs. I hope that Bolt sales explode in the coming months, but I don’t have high hopes they will. And if sales do grow, but don’t reach the 3,000-4,000 per month that many of us had hoped for, it will in my opinion be because GM simply didn’t know how to position in the car in a new and emerging car market.