Noise, Vi­bra­tion & Harsh­ness

Automobile - - Contents - By Jamie Kit­man

Why GM should beat the drum loudly for the Chevro­let Bolt EV.

IN CASE YOU haven’t heard the news, the elec­tric Chevro­let Bolt—with its of­fi­cial 235mile range (or more, as I ran up 267 miles)— is great. In fact, it makes the best case yet for Amer­i­cans to own an EV, start­ing with dou­ble the bat­tery range of most its an­tecedents. The price—$37,495 be­fore op­tions and a $7,500 tax credit—is stiffer than we’d like but a hell of a lot cheaper than a Tesla and not be­yond the means of most early-in­ten­der-type buy­ers. The cost is also likely to fall in years ahead with greater vol­ume and ad­vances in bat­tery man­u­fac­tur­ing.

The Bolt is not, to be clear, a Tesla Model S when it comes to lux­ury, flat-screen fan­ta­sia, or top-end per­for­mance. But then it costs con­sid­er­ably less. And it stands up to Tesla’s pop­u­larly priced baby brother, the Model 3, both in the fact you can buy or lease one to­day and in that it is a fully en­gi­neered ma­chine, ready to use daily. The Bolt of­fers driv­ers the re­as­sur­ing sense they’ve not been sent out into the field, tasked to re­port back on the state of var­i­ous open en­gi­neer­ing and man­u­fac­tur­ing ques­tions. It is a Chevro­let, in the proud­est sense of the word.

Many are prob­a­bly un­aware that re­li­a­bil­ity and seam­less ease of use are true for most elec­tric cars th­ese days; the Volk­swa­gen e-Golf is also ex­cel­lent, for in­stance. Nis­san Leaf, Hyundai Ioniq, Kia Soul EV, even the Fiat 500e—they’re all per­fectly swell EVs I’ve driven, and I’m prob­a­bly for­get­ting some oth­ers. They ride and han­dle well, they’re quiet and quick and pleas­ant to drive, with ac­com­mo­dat­ing chas­sis if not ones that cry out for spir­ited, Tokyo-drift-style flog­ging.

But the point is, the Bolt is all they are, plus it has more: more range, that is, which is key. It’s a short car, mak­ing for easy park­ing, but not too short, and it’s tall, which ac­counts along with a sub­stan­tial green­house for a spa­cious and airy cabin that mag­ni­fies the hatch­back prac­ti­cal­ity, with room for big folk and a fair amount of stuff. Over­all, its in­te­rior doesn’t sub­tract from but in­stead adds to the good cheer that dawns anew ev­ery time you find your­self re­al­iz­ing you’ll never have to hang out at a gas sta­tion again. And there’s that range, which makes own­er­ship vi­able for more peo­ple.

The first Bolts went on sale in De­cem­ber 2016 in Cal­i­for­nia, de­but­ing in var­i­ous other green states be­fore be­com­ing avail­able in all 50 states later in 2017. Chevy sold 20,000 through the first 11 months of last year, with al­most 3,000 shifted in Novem­ber, sug­gest­ing an an­nu­al­ized rate of 36,000 Bolts a year. Not bad for a new and still some­what un­fa­mil­iar tech­nol­ogy in a just launched model.

But it could have been bet­ter. In fact, it should’ve been bet­ter, and it could be still. Why? Be­cause the Bolt is good enough to own the af­ford­able space, how­ever briefly—roughly the time be­tween now and when other cheaper EVs have this sort of range—at a cru­cial time in the elec­tric car genus’ de­vel­op­ment and ac­cep­tance. Tesla has 455,000 peo­ple wait­ing for Model 3s, sug­gest­ing there’s a much larger mar­ket for some­thing like the Bolt.

BOB LUTZ SAID HE’D BEEN MIS­TAKEN ALL THE YEARS HE SPENT CRIT­I­CIZ­ING

TOY­OTA FOR THE PRIUS BE­CAUSE ON PA­PER IT LOST MONEY. IF HE HAD VIEWED

THOSE LOSSES AS A MAR­KET­ING EX­PENSE ... IT ALL

MADE SENSE.

Why Bolt now? Be­cause this is the time when neu­ral con­nec­tions are be­ing made in driv­ers’ heads as the whole con­cept of elec­tric cars and brands takes root. For rea­sons sound and rea­sons stoned, Tesla has dom­i­nated the psy­cho­graphic space so far, and the mar­ket has re­warded it in the out­sized val­u­a­tion of its shares, if not in prof­itable op­er­a­tions. Bolt is GM’s prod­uct-based chance to start claim­ing the space for it­self, be­fore ev­ery­one else ar­rives with their guns blaz­ing, too. If even

half the pre­dic­tions of an all-elec­tric fu­ture prove true, the space will be worth plenty.

How could Bolt achieve more suc­cess? First off, Gen­eral Mo­tors could mar­ket it like it re­ally meant it. When it wants to sell the hell out of some­thing—say Sil­ver­a­dos or Equinoxes—you no­tice. Tele­vi­sion and ra­dio, bill­boards, noisy deal­ers, and dig­i­tal in­tru­sions abound. I don’t pre­tend to mon­i­tor all me­dia sci­en­tif­i­cally, but no ads for the Bolt have crossed my con­scious­ness here, just out­side of New York City, a likely tar­get for au­to­mo­tive green­ery if ever there was one. I’ve even typed Bolt into a search en­gine sev­eral times over the last few months and not even once have I been bugged by some­body try­ing to sell me one.

There are very few cars whose mak­ers lay so far back, and al­though I don’t want to com­plain—part of me, in fact, wants to say “thank you”— it does seem strange that GM is keep­ing its head down. Af­ter all, this is a com­pany that star­tled it­self silly re­cently, if hap­pily, when the stock mar­ket re­sponded to the an­nounce­ment of its plan to ac­cel­er­ate the elec­tri­fi­ca­tion of its range—20 new elec­tric ve­hi­cles by 2023—driv­ing its shares to a mod­ern high. It is not much of an ex­ag­ger­a­tion to say all GM had to do was say it would do ev­ery­thing it spent the last 20 years fight­ing, and its shares—mired in con­crete, not­with­stand­ing some hugely prof­itable years—sky­rock­eted. So I said it, put­ting up a Face­book post to this ef­fect when it hap­pened. The sec­ond per­son to hit the thumbs-up “like” but­ton was GM ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent Mark Reuss.

So why, then, doesn’t GM get busy pro­mot­ing the Bolt now? We can imag­ine rea­sons. Too busy rak­ing in mega shekels sell­ing big trucks and SUVs. Doesn’t want to spend money if it doesn’t have to. Maybe the com­pany is split­ting the dif­fer­ence, de­vel­op­ing the tech­nol­ogy while not los­ing too much money by sell­ing too many cars. Or per­haps GM is too ob­sessed with the au­ton­o­mous fu­ture, where peo­ple buy ride ser­vices in­stead of cars to fawn over and pol­ish, and thinks it pre­ma­ture to worry about own­ing the Amer­i­can elec­tric car space now.

But if done right the Bolt can be the setup for the ride ser­vice brand. For­mer GM vice chair­man and prod­uct maven Bob Lutz once looked back and said he’d been mis­taken all the years he spent crit­i­ciz­ing Toy­ota for sell­ing the Prius be­cause on pa­per it lost money. If he had viewed those losses as a mar­ket­ing ex­pense, he came to un­der­stand, it all made sense. A wider Bolt roll­out should be seen the same way. Use it to cre­ate some of the rosy good feel­ings that make a brand rel­e­vant again and last for gen­er­a­tions. There’s a mo­ment where GM could make it the 21st-cen­tury equiv­a­lent of Chevro­let’s rep­u­ta­tion-build­ing “stove­bolt six” mo­tor (1929-1990), but it will pass. Let’s hear it for the Elec­tric Stove Bolt. Now. AM

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