2018 Chevrolet Bolt Electric Car: What It Is & Isn't, What It Means For Tesla

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The great thing about the Detroit Auto Show is that it brings so many global auto industry executives together under one roof.

So there's been a lot of discussion about the Chevrolet Bolt electric-car concept here: what it is (for buyers, for GM, and for other carmakers), what it isn't, and--perhaps most up in the air--what it means for Tesla Motors.

We've spent much of three days talking to sources, most of whom would only discuss the Bolt concept off the record.

DON'T MISS: Chevrolet Bolt Concept: 200-Mile, $37,500 Electric Car Concept (Live Video & Photos)

What follows is a sort of Q+A of what we've heard, what we've been told, and what we think we've learned.

What is the Chevrolet Bolt?

It's an auto-show concept for a subcompact battery-electric car in a tall five-door hatchback body, remarkably similar in proportion to a slightly longer BMW i3.

Its range goal is 200 miles, the price is targeted for $37,500, and if it appears, it will likely do so in 2017 as a new model in the 2018 Chevrolet lineup.

Chevrolet Bolt EV concept, 2015 Detroit Auto Show

Chevrolet Bolt EV concept, 2015 Detroit Auto Show

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How much of a real vehicle is the concept?

Given that GM launched and then killed its EV1 electric car--which former CEO Rick Wagoner called the biggest mistake of his tenure--it would be highly unlikely for the CEO of General Motors to unveil such a disruptive and high-profile concept car at North America's largest auto show unless the company intended to build it in some form.

We believe that GM fully intends to produce and sell a car based on the Bolt, using underpinnings from the next-generation Chevy Sonic subcompact--known internally as the Gamma architecture.

ALSO SEE: Why 'Bolt' Is A Really Terrible Name For Chevy's Electric Car

The Bolt does not have a dedicated "skateboard" layout, with a flat, long, wide battery pack under its floorboards, as the Tesla Model S does.

Instead, it reuses the heavily engineered and very expensive crash structures and some suspension elements from the next Sonic and all its derivatives.

You might call it a "dedicated derivative" of the GM Gamma family of vehicles.

Chevrolet Bolt Concept - 2015 Detroit Auto Show live photos

Chevrolet Bolt Concept - 2015 Detroit Auto Show live photos

Enlarge Photo

Would a production Bolt look like the concept?

Yes, mostly. The basic shape and proportions of the Bolt unveiled yesterday are likely fairly close to a production model, though regulatory requirements and consumer usability will modify many of the details you see in the photos.

The interior of the concept, however, probably doesn't have much to do with what will go into production.

MORE: 2016 Chevrolet Volt: 50-Mile Range, 41 MPG, Five Seats, All New (Photos)

We're betting that the dashboard, seats, and so forth will be modified versions of what's in the next-generation Sonic.

And we'd expect many of the powertrain components to draw heavily on the components used in the 2016 Chevy Volt launched by Barra just before she introduced the Bolt.

Chevrolet Bolt EV Concept, 2015 Detroit Auto Show

Chevrolet Bolt EV Concept, 2015 Detroit Auto Show

Enlarge Photo

There will also be some Spark EV contributions, including that vehicle's Combined Charging System DC fast-charging connector.

Can it really get 200 miles?

Probably. An LG Chem executive said last year that the company would start to provide lithium-ion cells for a 200-mile electric car during 2016, rather to the shock of the company's several automaker clients.

And given some publicity stumbles before the launch of the first-generation Volt--remember 238 mpg?--we suspect GM would be very cautious in quoting any range figure at all.

In other words, given several years of experience with production batteries and the EPA's electric range test cycles, we wouldn't expect the company's CEO to announce a range figure unless any production Bolt would deliver that rating.

Real-world range, of course, may vary--as every electric-car driver learns, sooner or later.

What vehicles would the Bolt compete with?

There's been a lot of media coverage saying that the Bolt targets the planned Tesla Model 3, a compact to mid-size all-electric sedan that is expected to have a range of 200 miles and a price of $35,000 if or when it launches in 2017 or thereafter.

We suspect that the electric-car buying public won't necessarily see it that way, though.

Tesla has managed, during three years of Model S production, to insert itself into the ranks of automotive luxury brands, in the same category as Audi, BMW, Jaguar, and Mercedes-Benz.

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