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$30K Chevy Bolt Looms as Challenge for GM

Article-$30K Chevy Bolt Looms as Challenge for GM

General Motors Co. NAIASChevyBoltEV02.jpg
The Chevrolet Bolt rolls onto the stage in its debut at the 2015 North American International Auto Show.
The Chevrolet Bolt concept points the way for GM's electric future.

General Motors' glitzy public unveiling of the Bolt concept car this week shows commitment to the future of electric vehicle technology, but it also heaps pressure on its engineers to meet a challenging set of technical goals.

The giant automaker revealed the Bolt to hundreds of automotive journalists at the 2015 North American International Auto Show on Monday, saying that it expects the car to travel 200 all-electric miles on a charge while being priced at just $30,000. GM CEO Mary Barra did not say, however, when the Bolt might reach production.

"It's a big deal and General Motors will be measured on this," Thilo Koslowski, vice president and Distinguished Automotive Analyst for Gartner Inc., told Design News. "They've made this public claim and they can't very easily pull back on it now."

The price and range goals loom as a challenge. Up to now, electric competitors have struggled to deliver long-range EVs for low costs. The Chevrolet Spark EV and Nissan Leaf, for example, cost less than $30,000 but offer EPA ranges between 80 and 90 miles. By comparison, an entry-level Tesla Model S offers a 208 mile-range that starts at $70,000.

GM engineers say they see hope on the horizon, however, especially with regard to the battery. On Monday, the company announced that its 2016 Chevy Volt (not to be confused with the Bolt) will be the recipient of a boost in all-electric range, largely on the strength of better battery chemistry. "We're not publishing the specific energy numbers," Andrew Farrah, chief engineer of the Volt, told Design News. "But I can tell you the cells themselves have about 20 percent more energy by volume."

GM hopes that continued battery improvements, similar to those already seen on the Volt, would enable the automaker to reach its energy goals for the Bolt.

Cost, however, remains a huge challenge. Competitors at the show estimated that the Bolt's battery would need to offer a capacity of at least 60 kWh. At an estimated cost of more than $300/kWh for a liquid-cooled battery pack, the Bolt's battery alone would then run $18,000, they said.

GM refused to speculate on battery costs but said that it believes it can hit the lower target. "We've been working on chemistry and cell design with several different suppliers," Farrah said. "We also have our own pack design activities to enable us to package it into the car."

It's not known whether GM took government subsidies into account in predicting the $30,000 figure, but industry experts believe that subsidies and other factors could provide a tiny bit of leeway on the final price. "If this vehicle costs $37,000 minus a government subsidy, it could come close to their figure," Koslowski said. "And maybe they can fudge a little on the 200-mile range, and at the end of the day, they can still say that they basically hit the mark."

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