Chevy Bolt EV, Sonic, Bolt, Sonic: GM mingles gas, electric cars on same assembly line


2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV, road test, California coastline, Sep 2016

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV, road test, California coastline, Sep 2016

Enlarge Photo

General Motors didn't have to construct an all-new assembly plant to build its affordable, mass-market Chevrolet Bolt EV electric car.

In fact, it produces the electric car at the existing Orion assembly plant in Michigan, which opened in 1983.

That's not the most interesting aspect of Bolt EV production, though: GM actually builds the all-electric Bolt EV and the gasoline-powered Chevrolet Sonic on the same assembly line, interspersing them as needed.

DON'T MISS: Why I canceled my Chevy Bolt EV electric-car order: a reader explains

There is no deviation or halting to switch from one to the other during production. The plant simply knocks out a carefully planned cadence of Sonics and Bolt EVs throughout an entire shift.

More than 100 Chevrolet Bolt EVs are produced per day, according to WardsAuto, with a handful donning lightning-bolt badges to create the Opel Ampera-e electric car sold in Europe.

The other part of Orion's production is the Chevrolet Sonic subcompact, in both four-door sedan and five-door hatchback variants.

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV, road test, California coastline, Sep 2016

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV, road test, California coastline, Sep 2016

Enlarge Photo

Through the line, GM designed the build process to switch seamlessly from one powertrain to another.

At the first major stop for a Sonic or Bolt EV, either a fuel tank or a battery pack is installed.

Workers stand by and fasten either component—with the same 10 fasteners—and the vehicle proceeds on its way.

READ THIS: Chevy Bolt EV vs Tesla's Model 3, Model S: CNET, Consumer Reports compare electric cars

Then the car stops to receive its driveline, installed with 12 fasteners—again, using the same process for either the gasoline-powered Sonic or the all-electric Bolt EV.

Additionally, little differs in other build processes, including the stamping and body assembly. While the Bolt EV's doors are made of aluminum, they're installed in the same way as steel Sonic doors.

This, as the report points out, is what makes the operation truly remarkable.

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV, road test, California coastline, Sep 2016

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV, road test, California coastline, Sep 2016

Enlarge Photo

In fact, the sole major deviation in the shared assembly cadence is a specific Bolt EV process to fill the high-voltage power-electronics module with coolant.

GM is thus able to boost Chevrolet Bolt EV output without additional investments in tooling or new plants, or adding a supplementary shift.

In fact, the automaker could conceivably triple output of its long-range electric car without altering its tooling or plant layout.

CHECK OUT: Bolt EV electric car sales after 6 months: how do they compare?

Production volume depends on whether the Bolt EV meets its quality inspections, of course, but Orion plant manager Yves Dontigny told Ward's that the electric car has exceeded its quality targets.

Like many automakers, GM is confident the Bolt EV will catch on over time despite facing the end of federal tax-credit incentives sometime over the next couple of years following a wind-down period.

Assuming Bolt EV sales hit their stride over time, all GM has to do is say the word ... and more Bolt EVs there shall be.

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