2014 Chevrolet Spark EV - First Drive, Portland, July 2013
The arrival of a moderately-priced battery electric car with a rated range of 200 miles will change the entire market for plug-in vehicles.
When that will happen, and from which maker, remains open--though the likely suspects are Nissan, Tesla, and General Motors, with BMW as a long-shot outsider.
With GM's then-CEO Dan Akerson having referred to a $30,000 200-mile battery-electric car several times last year, the rumor mills began to buzz.
But we haven't heard much lately about such a car, except for an interesting rumor last month: that it will actually be not a dedicated vehicle, but an addition model added to the current Chevrolet Sonic subcompact line in 2016 or 2017.
[UPDATE: After further discussion with sources, this article has been updated in several places to clarify that the 200-mile electric car will be an adaptation of the current Chevy Sonic vehicle, not of the next generation--which is scheduled to be introduced for 2018.]
2015 Chevrolet Sonic
That news came via The Truth About Cars, and was not attributed to a named source. In discussions with the writer, the source was identified only as a person within the industry.
After some further investigation, we've uncovered another possible bit of information--which must also, regrettably, remain unsourced: There may be as few as 1,800 Sonic EVs produced over a two-year period.
That wouldn't make it any kind of competitor to much of anything.
Until we learn more, here's our roundup of what we know so far about GM's supposed 200-mile electric car.
We know already that the 2016 Chevrolet Volt range-extended electric car will be unveiled to the world at January's 2015 Detroit Auto Show, and go into production in the second half of next year.
2016 Chevrolet Volt - first teaser image, Aug 2014
The Detroit Show is the most prestigious venue for Detroit makers to unveil new products, so we'd expect a 200-mile electric Sonic EV to be unveiled at a year later, in January 2016.
That would mean its production would likely begin in late 2016, presumably at the same plant where today's Sonic is built in Orion Township, Michigan.
The current generation of Sonic launched in 2011 as a 2012 model, and the next generation is scheduled to be launched as a 2018 model.
GM's then-CEO Akerson referred several times to the 200-mile electric car as one that would be sold for $30,000.
GM CEO Dan Akerson at the Volt battery fires hearing
That's a full $5,000 less than the target price (before incentives) for the Tesla Model 3 mentioned by CEO Elon Musk.
On the other hand, if the 200-mile GM electric car is a Chevy Sonic, it will be a segment smaller and carry a far less prestigious brand than the higher-volume luxury Tesla car.
Tesla intends to launch its Model 3 third-generation vehicle line in late 2016 and put it into volume production during 2017 (assuming it gets its lithium-ion battery gigafactory up and running in time to provide battery packs for the car).
We know Nissan, meanwhile, will offer its next Leaf with a choice of battery-pack sizes, giving two or even three choices of range to buyers.
Nissan product chief Andy Palmer has said that ranges of 120 up to 150 miles could be offered.
2015 Nissan Leaf
That's the likely competitive landscape GM faces. It will likely shoot for an EPA-rated range of 200 miles, but would it settle for 150 miles--or whatever the highest-range Nissan Leaf offers in the next generation?
Having heard a reference to the car as a "Leaf burner," we suspect GM will ensure that the car has a higher rated range than the best version of the next-generation Leaf.
The company will likely aim for 200 miles, but could settle for something between 150 and 200--though clearly any number beginning with "2" is better.
This is perhaps the most hotly-debated issue around a GM 200-mile electric car: Will it be a high-volume vehicle, or only built in compliance-car numbers?
Over the last few weeks, Green Car Reports has discussed this issue with a source in the industry--who asked for very obvious reasons not to be identified.