Here’s the scoop on the end of Chevy Bolt production, in a nutshell. After GM beat all the world’s automakers (including Tesla) to market with the first sub-$30k, 250+ mile range EV in 2016, the Chevy Bolt is at the end of its lifespan. It will be replaced by the larger Equinox EV that will debut in a couple of months at roughly $30k.
It will be bigger, with fresh Ultium technology, have faster charging, and take everything GM learned from Volt and the Bolt to the next level. I have seen the Equinox EV in the flesh at the LA Auto Show and it betters the Bolt in all aspects. The Bolt is a great little car, but it will seem long in the tooth when the Equinox EV debuts.
You wouldn’t know that by reading the headlines the last few days. Across the media landscape, headlines like “Chevy KILLS the Bolt” ricochet around the globe as breathless media analysts huffed and hyperventilated. Poor GM, no matter what they do, they always seem to get bad ink.
From the Volt to the Bolt to the Ultium platform, GM has been ahead of the game when it comes to legacy automakers, yet they seem to have a bullseye on their back no matter what they do. Even when Mary Barra was anointed the first female CEO in the global auto industry, she was ridiculed and skewered by hip, new-age electric car fans.
Nothing highlights the bad press more than a GM hit piece that recently ran on Gizmodo. Written by Lauren Leffer, she prattles on about the loss of the Chevy Bolt to retool GM’s Orion plant for “energy guzzler” trucks. Any fluent automotive journalist would say right up front that the Bolt is being replaced with the Equinox EV, yet Leffer postpones the fact towards almost at end of the piece while spinning a kooky yarn that the Bolt was sacrificed for big bad full-size EV trucks. Yes, the Bolt factory is being retooled to make Silverado and Sierra EVs, but she wildly swings away at conspiracy theories here.
Folks like Leffer are very skilled at moving goalposts. GM shuttered the Hummer division in concession to environmental terrorist groups that burned dealerships, while somehow avoiding all the other OEMs that sell full-size SUVs. One would think that by spending billions of dollars developing an electric, emissions-free Hummer EV, GM would get melodious accolades. Instead, they say GM’s new electric, Ultium-based trucks, and SUVs are “energy guzzlers.”
Then, Ms. Leffer goes on to quote a couple of “experts” with fancy titles that aid and abet her. After slagging GM in a cookie-cutter soliloquy, she FINALLY tells us (in paragraph sixteen) that GM isn’t cutting affordable EVs at all.
Finally, she peppers the article by quoting Joni Mitchell lyrics. This kind of lazy reporting and woke misinformation is the reason the EV space is viewed with suspicion and politicization by a sizable portion of the motoring public. It also ultimately hinders the adoption of EVs.
The latest hysteria surrounding the sunset of the Bolt is just a blip on a timeline of bad press surrounding GM. The narratives created by people like Leffer over the last 30 years are breathtaking, and in many cases, with GM joining in and shooting itself in the foot as well.
General Motors brought us the EV1 back in the 90s and they leased them to people to gauge interest. GM decided that the lead acid batteries weren’t ready for prime time and killed the program. When The General destroyed their intellectual property (like Apple, Google, BMW, and every other major global corporation) it unshackled a hysterical band of armchair critics that have been bloodthirsty ever since.
Hell, the debut of any new EV from GM has at least one mention of the EV1’s demise or “Who Killed The Electric Car?” a documentary film released almost twenty years ago. We can barely keep our phones charged all day in 2023, and clearly, battery tech wasn’t ready for prime time thirty years ago. Most critically, EV1 leasees never owned their cars and had no say in their final disposition, sorry folks.
Years later, GM brought the Volt into production in 2010 after it debuted as a concept in 2007. It was the first mainstream PHEV in mass production with a gas-powered range extender, no supercharger network needed. It was by all accounts a “moon shot” effort that beat all major automakers to market.
During its gestation, the Volt was called vaporware and critics were frothing at the mouth that it wasn’t a true EV. Pages upon pages of internet forums bristled with the debate of whether the gas range extender mechanically drove the front wheels. Good lord.
When it debuted it garnered accolades from around the world, including the 2009 Green Car Vision Award, 2011 Green Car of the Year, 2011 North American Car of the Year, 2011 World Green Car, 2012 European Car of the Year, and 2016 Green Car of the Year.
When Volt debuted it sold well and got rave reviews from consumers and journalists from around the world. Volt 1.0 was followed by Volt 2.0 in 2015 and was a credible update to the original car. GM sold roughly 180,000 Volts during the car’s heyday.
Yet, when the Bolt debuted in 2016, with an admittedly confusing name, the Volt days were numbered in favor of Chevy’s new, all-electric, 258-mile range, sub-$30k entry. When the Volt was retired, conspiracy theories swirled around that big, bad GM was trying to kill the electric car once again!
The Bolt was a hit for GM, got rave reviews from consumers and the press, and beat all the world’s OEMs to market (including Tesla) with an affordable EV for the masses. The car grabbed many honors including the 2017 Motor Trend Car of the Year, the 2017 North American Car of the Year, an Automobile Magazine 2017 All-Star, and made Time magazine’s Best 25 Inventions of 2016.
Then the battery fire thing happened. The timing was impeccable and coincided with Covid madness and the world going absolutely insane. With a whopping 12 fires out of roughly 80k Bolts sold, the press (and internet trolls with torches and pitchforks) ran with the ball and deemed the car a fire trap.
GM, admittedly gun-shy after the Cobalt ignition interlock debacle a few years earlier, freaked out, recalled ALL Bolts, and shut down the factory for six months. LG was deemed culpable for the fires and had to replace the batteries in all existing Bolts to the tune of $1.5 billion dollars. GM is sometimes its own worst enemy and the PR nightmare that resulted from General’s overkill reaction, was a big, bloody chunk of red meat to foes of Detroit’s largest automaker.
During all this drama, GM quietly spent billions of dollars developing Ultium, a clean sheet EV platform with three new battery factories and invested heavily in mineral supply chains. While other car companies showed concepts and converted ice-based designs to EVs, GM went all in on a scalable platform that could underpin everything from a Bolt replacement (Ms.Leffer, are you listening?) to a hulking GMC Hummer.
Then, when gas prices skyrocketed after the pandemic subsided, EV sales went berserk. Tesla sales went through the roof and all the bad press in the world couldn’t obscure that the Bolt was also a great EV, attainable by mere mortals. I predicted that the Bolt would become a hot seller as the pandemic waned and sure enough, Bolt sales powered GM to the number two slot in EV sales, easily bypassing arch-rival Ford in the first quarter of 2023.
These days, GM’s critics are zeroing in on the Ultium platform. Some say its battery chemistry is a bit stale and the platform will be dated when Ultium models hit the market en masse by mid-decade. Anyone following the rapid pace of EV tech knows that what’s hot today, could be obsolete next week.
Take battery technology. First, the hot ticket was Tesla’s 4680 cells, last week it was sodium batteries, and who knows what tech du jour will debut tomorrow? It takes years to tool up factories and bring very complicated new EVs to market, so any OEM, not just GM will face obsolescence during the gestation of a new EV platform.
GM critics usually forget to mention the Ultium platform is “chemistry-agnostic” and can take pouch, prismatic, or cylindrical cells. GM is already using prismatic cells in several Ultium-based vehicles for China—including the Chinese-market Cadillac Lyriq.
I’ll be the first to say that GM needs to tell its story better. So to wrap this article up, I’ll set the record straight and write the corporate PR blurb that should’ve been heard around the world. “Newsflash! Ulitum-based, $30K Chevy Equinox EV will replace the Chevy Bolt and solidify GM’s expertise in entry-level EVs.”
Now that wasn’t so hard to get across, was it? No Joni Mitchell lyrics or big, bad legacy auto conspiracy theories required.