What Discontinuing The Bolt Means Depends Heavily On What GM Does Next
Like many other people, I bought a Bolt EUV last year after prices dropped. These price drops were temporary for the 2020-22 model year, but were made permanent for 2023. Then, on top of the price drops, the Bolt Brothers (EV and EUV) ended up being eligible for some pretty hefty tax incentives for the first part of this year. The end result was a hell of a deal, despite the shortcomings of charging speed compared to more expensive EVs.
What we didn’t know at the time was that 2023 was the last year for the Bolts. As of this fall, production for both models will end to make room for GM’s Ultium models, including the Chevy Silverado EV and its GMC Sierra counterpart (those trucks have always been built on the same lines, with dealers occasionally getting some “mutts” with a mix of GMC and Chevrolet emblems applied accidentally). This moves does make a lot of sense, as GM can gain greater economies of scale by putting all of their vehicles on the same electric platform, and continuing production of an older model would be more costly all around.
It’s also important to understand that the average buyer clearly doesn’t understand what they’re getting into with a Bolt purchase. CleanTechnica readers largely know that the car can only pull 55 kW max at Level 3 stations, but you guys usually what a kilowatt even is. The endless frustrations at Electrify America stations when a Bolt owner pulls into the 350 kW space and sits for an hour (when the 150 kW space would have been just as fast) shows us that buyers probably didn’t know what they were going to miss out on.
Sure, many did know (including myself), and we’d still would rather have a slower EV than no EV at all, but keeping the Bolt around was sure to cause confusion and anger more and more the longer it coexists on dealer lots.
On the other hand, we have to keep in mind what GM is actually selling this year. Gas vehicles aside, if you were to stop sales of the Bolt and Bolt EUV, you’d be left with, as Agent K would say, “precisely d!<#.” The Hummer EV is a low-volume machine with almost hand-built production levels. Other outlets are trying to be nice when they say Cadillac Lyriq deliveries were “almost 1,000.” So, maybe it’s not precisely nothing, but in terms of Tesla’s mass production and even GM’s much smaller Bolt EV/EUV sales, GM’s low-volume early Ultium EVs are almost a rounding error.
Sadly, even when the cheaper Ultium models start to show up on dealer lots, they’re not going to be anywhere nearly as affordable as the Bolts were. The closest-priced vehicle will be the Equinox EV, with its cheapest front-drive variant supposed to be priced starting at $30,000. Sadly, we’re unlikely to see those lower-spec Equinoxes on sale in late 2023 or even in 2024. I asked GM about affordable Equinox variants, or even low-spec Blazers, and there’s no word on the availability of those.
“Let Them Eat Cake?”
While the Bolts are now legacy models that both get in the way of GM’s plans and get in the way of people at charging stations, it’s also a bit of an apples-to-oranges comparison to point out the models’ shortcomings when compared to something like a Tesla Model 3. After all, if you’re sitting in a Tesla, it was something you could afford, and in the price range you were shopping, the Bolts seem like a pretty raw deal.
That having been said, if you’re not on a Tesla budget, your other options in the $25,000 range are limited to the Bolts and the Nissan LEAF. Yes, the LEAF has many fans, but the lack of liquid cooling makes for even slower charging on trips and batteries that degrade faster. So, I know the LEAF fanboys will hate me for saying this, but it’s really a no-brainer decision between those vehicles. The Bolts are currently the king of that market segment in terms of value.
When GM discontinues the Bolts and replaces their production space with $50,000+ trucks, it’s a bit like the apocryphal tale of a wealthy princess (supposedly, but probably not Marie Antoinette) who was told that the common people didn’t have any bread to eat. The response, “Let them eat cake,” indicates that the princess didn’t understand that people who were too poor to get hold of bread couldn’t just eat some luxury food instead.
GM has said in the past that its strategy is to capture that lower end of the market, especially the $30-35k range. This, CEO Mary Barra said, was how the company could catch up to Tesla. By being able to compete in market segments where Tesla doesn’t play at all, GM’s strategy does lend some credibility to its big stated goals for EVs in the coming years.
If the early demise of the Bolt and especially the Bolt EUV (not even in production for two years now) is any indication, GM may be abandoning that strategy. With a $30k Equinox not arriving for at least a year or two, GM seems to be trying to do what every other manufacturer is doing and go for the more profitable high-end market instead of selling people on average and lower incomes any EVs. GM doesn’t want to answer any questions, but it’s clear that plans changed, because it would have never spent the money to design the EUV variant if it had plans from the beginning to stop producing it so soon.
If this is the case, and the company has abandoned plans to serve the lower market, it’s a bad sign in general. Nissan also plans to end LEAF production, and then nobody in that income bracket will have access to a new EV. Used EVs probably won’t reach that market segment for years, as demand for them will probably prop up prices.
The end result is a market where people with lower incomes just get shafted by society more than they have in a long time. Instead of “Let them eat cake,” we instead get to be neo-serfs who can’t buy a home, can’t buy a car, and can’t own much of anything else other than maybe an e-bike (in cities that don’t try to penalize even that). The narcissists and sociopaths pushing “You’ll own nothing and be happy” may be OK with this, but only because they’ll own and/or control everything.
Somehow the rest of us will get cake, right?
What GM Should Do
It may seem penny-wise to halt production of the Bolts and abandon the lower end of the market right now. There are higher profits to be made up-market. But, that’s what everybody is doing!
GM will be in a position where it has no real competitive advantage against every other company trying to transition to EVs if it doesn’t commit to offering something in the $30k price range on a shorter timetable.
So, GM needs to get serious about affordable Ultium vehicles if it wants to impress car buyers and investors. From day one, the Equinox EV needs to be available at reasonable volumes in its lowest $30k trims. There also needs to be an announcement ASAP of a TrailBlazer EV and/or Trax EV with specs similar to the Bolt EUV, but with 150 kW charging, available for under $30k, and no later than 2025 (2024 would be better). While GM is doing this, it may even be a good idea to offer a Bolt EUV with Ultium cells and 100-150 kW charging to hold down the sub-$30k fort until something better can be offered.
If GM can’t offer something affordable, it is as unserious as everybody else, and should be treated as such.
Featured image: a Bolt EUV and the sunset, by Jennifer Sensiba.
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