2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV
Electric-car advocates are often passionate, with memories long enough to remember GM's 2004 destruction of its pioneering fleet of EV1 electric cars.
Since then, the company has built and sold two generations of the Chevrolet Volt, with the launch of the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV imminent within a year—before Nissan, Tesla, BMW, or any other plug-in pioneer manages to field a 200-mile electric cars below $40,000.
Despite that, at least some electric-car owners and fans seem to retain a considerable undercurrent of skepticism about Detroit's largest automaker and its intentions.
The current 2016 Chevy Spark EV, which the Bolt EV will replace, is widely acknowledged to be a compliance car.
That means a low-volume model, offered only in limited markets in numbers just high enough to meet California's zero-emission sales rules. Chevy's volume plug-in model for five years has been the Volt.
The ZEV rules will start to ramp up significantly in number in 2018, rising by an additional 1 percent of sales each year starting in 2018, and applying to more automakers.
Despite all the hoopla over the Tesla Model 3—for which 400,000 people have put down $1,000 with no guaranteed timetable for delivery—the 2017 Bolt EV will clearly be the first mass-priced 200-mile electric car on the market.
That will happen at the end of this year or early next year, with the first cars going to California and other markets where electric cars are a known quantity.
GM has said that it expects first-year volume for the Bolt EV to be 25,000 to 30,000 cars.
That's about 10 times the sales of the Spark EV last year, and the equal of the highest sales year ever for a plug-in vehicle of any sort in the U.S. (the Nissan Leaf in 2014).
But is the Bolt EV a compliance car nonetheless, one that GM will sell only because those sales will let it comply with the California ZEV rules and help it meet steadily rising corporate average fuel economy regulations through 2025?
No less an industry icon than GM's former product czar, Bob Lutz, appears to think so.
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Lutz is widely credited as the man who kicked GM's product development process into the 21st century, replacing "me too" vehicles of the 1990s with stylish, well-equipped, pleasant, and fully competitive entries in multiple segments.
GM's biggest problem now seems to be not the cars themselves, but the brand on the grille. Too many Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Hyundai, and Kia buyers simply don't think of Chevrolet when cross-shopping.
Lutz also protected the nascent Volt program from cancellation by the White House Auto Task Force during GM's 2009 bankruptcy and government-backed restructuring.
His comments came in a roundtable panel discussion held last summer by industry trade journal Automotive News, highlighted in an article published on GM-Volt.com in December.
In it, he noted the rising prices of GM's full-size SUVs like the Chevrolet Tahoe, GMC Yukon, and Cadillac Escalade.
Just a few years ago, Lutz suggested, the Tahoe started at $42,000. These days, "you can't touch a Chevy Tahoe for under about $65 [thousand]," and the Escalade can exceed $100,000.