The Chevrolet Bolt EV concept made huge waves at the Detroit Auto Show, and reports indicate General Motors has concrete plans for starting production of the landmark car in October 2016. Sources inside the supply chain told Reuters that the electric vehicle capable of 200 miles of range was slated for production at GM’s Lake Orion assembly plant, with initial runs expected to be conservative.
Bolt EV timeline
Following the Reuters report, The Detroit News received confirmation from a source with knowledge of GM’s plans that the Bolt EV would enter production at Orion Assembly late next year, and that the automaker would make the announcement the week beginning February 9. The Orion plant, where the Buick Verano and Chevy Sonic are made, has seen volumes drop dramatically with the slowdown in small car sales. Reports suggest the Bolt electric vehicle will be based on the Chevy Sonic subcompact car’s platform.
Despite the slowdown (and announcement there would be layoffs of 160 Orion workers), GM said late last year it would invest $160 million in tooling and equipment for the Michigan plant in preparation for a future vehicle. GM’s Mark Reuss began speaking of a new battery car on the way in October 2014, and now it appears that vehicle will be the electric vehicle with the range and price point — near $30,000 after federal tax credit — that could shake up the mainstream auto market.
Getting the jump on Tesla
With both a concept vehicle on the record and a looming announcement about production schedules, General Motors has a clear jump on Tesla, which is expected to release a vehicle featuring a similar range and cost as the Bolt EV in 2017. The Fremont-based electric automaker is currently preoccupied with bringing its Model X crossover EV to market later in 2015.
As Tesla rolls out the Model X and accommodates the tens of thousands of reservations on the books, there has been no word on when to expect a concept version of the vehicle dubbed the Model 3. GM already has its concept, preliminary production schedule, and plant location.
Industry forecasters also are beginning to make calls on projected volumes and how Orion would make room for production of the new electric vehicle. LMC Automotive told The Detroit News to expect Bolt production volumes between 20,000 and 30,000 units in the first calendar year, with Verano assembly moving to a GM plant in Mexico to accommodate its assembly.
For what seems like years, auto industry analysts have been warning Tesla investors how a large automaker could enter the scene and humble the niche EV company with its superior production capabilities and infrastructure. Elon Musk, chief executive and product architect for Tesla, has maintained his company welcomed the arrival of mainstream automakers to the electric car industry.
Musk’s point — punctuated by the release of Tesla patents — has been that a rising tide will lift all boats. With at least another 200,000 EVs expected to sell through 2016 and mass-market entries to arrive in 2017, it will take a serious push in charging infrastructure to make the formula work. So far, only Tesla, Nissan, and a few other automakers have joined the cause. Getting the biggest U.S. automaker in the fight would presumably jumpstart the movement. As for competition, Musk has almost laughed off the idea that another automaker could beat Tesla at its own game.
Indeed, GM’s initiative on the electric vehicle front would be great for everyone interested in sustainable transportation. Expect the suspense to build until that first affordable, long-range EV rolls off the assembly line, be it on Lake Orion or in Fremont, Calif.