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6 Strategic Mistakes GM Made With the Chevrolet Bolt (Part 4: Not offering different battery/range options)

The Bolt’s 238-mile battery range is a great achievement for GM, but it is also the vehicle’s albatross.

With the 60 kWh battery pack and 238 miles of range comes a higher cost for the Chevrolet model, a low-end brand. In the minds of prospective EV buyers, the longer range also pits the Bolt against the aspirational brand and more upscale features of the upcoming Tesla Model 3, which has a waiting list of an estimated 400,000 reservation holders.

Which car do you think the vast majority of consumers, especially the early-adopting buyers located in the image-conscious West and East Coast states would prefer?

The breakthrough aspect of the Bolt is that it is the first non-Tesla EV to offer north of 200 miles of range. The Bolt’s range of 238 miles is quite impressive, especially when compared to say the 107 miles of the Nissan LEAF, 87 miles of the Fiat 500e, 114 from the BMW i3, and 100 from the Ford Focus.

The Bolt is also most impressively roughly $40,000 less than was the Tesla Model S 60kWh (no longer available, 75kWH is now the smallest battery option from Tesla) which has a range of about 20 less miles. A huge kudos to GM for that feat, but other than the fact that they are both electric vehicles, they are very different cars.

Consumers interested in the range of the Bolt but for whom prestige and brand affinity are key, will wait for the Model 3. For those simply looking for a practical EV, the Bolt is a great option, though they might simply opt for a lower cost LEAF, Fiat 500e or the new Hyundai Ioniq or gas-powered or hybrid car that costs significantly less.

Fixes: GM should have considered offering a smaller battery option, say 40kWh/45 kWh with 160/180 miles of range. While this might have only reduced the sticker price a few thousand dollars, more significantly it would have:

  1. Positioned the Bolt as a LEAF and other 100+/- mile range car “killer.”
  2. Provided some perception distance between the Bolt and Tesla Model 3.
  3. A shorter range option could make it more attractive to buyers just looking for a low-cost EV commuter car.

Instead of being positioned in the mind of many consumers against the Tesla Model 3, the Bolt should have been positioned against the Nissan LEAF, Ford C-MAX Energi, new Hyundai Ioniq Electric, BMW i3 and others.  With a range of say 175 miles and monthly lease payment of $250, the Bolt could crush the LEAF and its 107-mile range. And when these and other competitors offer 200+/- mile range offerings in the coming year, the Bolt would still have them beat with the 238-mile option.

Adding different range options clearly adds complexity to the Bolt offering, but the key to the Bolt’s success is all about positioning to early buyers of green cars.

The point is that the Bolt doesn’t “occupy that single spot” in the mind of potential consumers. It should have been positioned as the LEAF and Prius killer. Instead, it suffers from Model 3 envy.


Loren McDonald

Loren McDonald

2 Responses

  1. Rather than viewing this problem wholly as a GM marketing error, I see the EV media as having a major role in portraying the Bolt as a “Tesla killer” when in fact it is as totally different class of vehicle. According to the media, every new EV entry is a “Tesla killer” and has to somehow “measure up” to Tesla’s offerings — this is complete nonsense but there are those who give credence to such garbage and make decisions accordingly.

    As a senior citizen looking to maximize and extend cash reserves I couldn’t give a rat’s rear end about the low-slung and expensive sports sedans of my youth, be they Teslas, BMWs, or whatever. What I need at this time is a small hatchback that offers easy ingress/egress, ease in packing for short trips, and strong acceleration for passing cars and avoiding erratic drivers. In researching options and actually going to showrooms and sitting in various vehicles, or renting them, I learned that there were two that met my needs well — the Subaru Forrester 3.6R and the Bolt EV. When Subaru dropped the 3.6R engine option for the Forrester the Bolt EV became the only game in town, and I am thoroughly enjoying and appreciating my 2019 Premier.

    I think the EV media can better serve it’s readers by emphasizing what offerings fall in current clearly established vehicle categories, instead of holding up Tesla as some sort of standard against which all other vehicles must be measured, regardless of configuration. In my view, the Tesla Model 3, for example, should be viewed ONLY as a competitor of the BMW 3-series and other ICE-powered and electric direct equivalents and reported on as such. Another problem that I see is the constant harping on the Bolt EV’s list price, as if that somehow justifies declaring it to be a direct M3 competitor. What’s not being said is that the Bolt does not sell at the sticker price — I got mine for roughly $13,000 under sticker, plus the tax credit. The reality of the matter is that it actually sells at prices which are competitive with it’s gas powered equivalents, but this fact isn’t always shared with readers. The customer who doesn’t discern this is lead to believe the s/he is better off buying a Tesla — even if s/he actually can’t afford it and can’t really use a sedan. Even in the case of the Bolt’s true electric equivalents, the reports are often slanted. The Hyundai Kona Electric is case at point. It’s often highly recommended over the Bolt even though it is only sold in the few ZEV states. To make matters worse there are reports of dealers in these states attempting to actually get sticker for the vehicles due to their “special order” status. Obviously such dealers are far more interested in selling and servicing the gas powered version which is sitting right there on their lots. How this lease/purchase recommendation can be made to potential buyers who don’t live in ZEV states is truly mind boggling.

    Once vehicles are appropriately categorized, it becomes possible to directly compare operational costs, service/repair costs and availability, and other aspects of TOC. Again, the EV media is largely silent on these issues. My Bolt’s service center is a few miles from my residence. On the other hand, the nearest Tesla service center is about 35 to 40 miles from where I live. Again, this problem with an apparent relative dearth of Tesla service centers is not emphasized (if mentioned at all) in most of the EV reviews I’ve seen. Is the reader really being served when such omissions are more the norm than the exception? I don’t think so.

    To conclude, in general there is too much slanted and otherwise useless information and too much omission of important facts in the EV media . I believe readers will be better served if more focus is placed on helping us to meet our needs as we see them, and less on attempts to define our needs for us.

  2. I could not agree more with the above commentary about the Chevy Bolt. Do us a favor and tout what is GREAT about this car. I leased mine in August 2017 after having done extensive research and test drives of other e-cars. I was waiting for the right e-car, it was love at first test drive, and I have never looked back. In fact I just bought it from the dealer last week. Total price $39,000 ( including lease amount.) That included a $7500 rebate which has ended unfortunately. That is how much love my ice blue Chevy Bolt Premier edition, which Chevy has discontinued (very bad marketing).

    My Chevy Bolt fits my needs perfectly. I wanted a small, cute, SUV that would take me on my way with friends, students , relatives, grandchild with no hassles and has a viable charge range: 238 Miles and then some when one drives smart : i.e. not too fast. Its easy to park, great ingress / egress, excellent visibility, fabulous dashboard where I can display directions without having to put on reading glasses. Plus it has great back up cameras and emergency braking systems for crash prevention. Yup I am a senior. Also have done academic research on traffic injuries so I am big on safety features . It also is a peppy car that can accelerate when I need it to.

    Best of all I can travel in the HOV lanes on notoriously crowded Los Angeles freeways. That halves my commute time. Oh, BTW I ‘m not dropping $55, 000 on a big, stuffy, Tesla 3 sedan, which seem to be taking over my neighborhood lately. I could care less about car brand status. The Chevy dealer is two miles from my home. Now there are more fast charging options than ever. The only downside now is my husband always wants to drive my Chevy Bolt. He prefers it to his BMW.


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