Substance Over Style: Is the Chevy Bolt EV the Next Prius?

Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images

Is anyone worried about the curb appeal of electric vehicles? We can see the Nissan Leaf or Mercedes B-Class working on some level for the mass market, but the current electrified lineup is a group of vehicles mostly concerned with substance rather than style. Now that spy shots of the production Chevy Bolt EV are circulating, we’re not optimistic about the future of plug-in car looks, either. In fact, it appears Chevy is about to deliver the Prius of electric cars.

This problem only exists if you don’t have $75,000 to plunk down on a Tesla Model S, the EV that projects Maserati-caliber style on the street. Outside of that, the list of pure electric vehicles breaks down into the gas car variants (e-Golf, Focus Electric, Soul EV) and segment originals (Leaf, BMW i3). Of the bunch, the i3 is the one worth admiring the longest.

Source: BMW

When the Bolt EV made its debut at the 2015 Detroit Auto Show, most journalists saw it as a GM (i.e., unflattering) take on the i3. Since then, the Bolt EV appears to have gotten more of the original Chevy Volt in profile. The front fascia likewise took a detour into more pedestrian styling, which can be expected when the functionality of a production vehicle takes priority.

This function, the automotive substance, has to be the rule of thumb when designing a car designed for fuel economy first, as it was when Toyota delivered the Prius. Million of hybrids (and even more oil saved) later, no one is doubting the Prius’s impact. But all operational things being equal, we’d rather be driving an Infiniti. Or the 2016 Volt, for that matter.

Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images

Chevy recently proved it can deliver impressive style on a very green car in the second-gen Volt, winner of Green Car of the Year in Los Angeles and already selling like hot cakes. You know you are looking at an EV when you see a Volt, yet you are not compromising, especially considering the price tag. (Since the new Volt cracked 50 miles in electric range, we consider it an EV with some gas help.)

However, Chevy looks like it took a step back with the Bolt EV gearing up for its production model reveal at CES in 2016. While we cannot be sure we have the production model in the spy shots, the signs certainly point in that direction.

Maybe it doesn’t matter in the slightest to consumers whose priority is commuting without gasoline in a car they consider reasonably priced (i.e., around $30,000 after the federal tax credit.) The enduring popularity of the Prius would suggest it doesn’t matter a great deal.

Yet the auto movements that penetrate mainstream society usually come with style. Just think of the Model S. This car has captured the imagination of so many auto enthusiasts around the world.

Speaking of Tesla, maybe that’s why the automaker is in no desperate rush to bring out the Model 3. All in due time. When it arrives, it won’t have much in the way of competition, especially if it delivers its affordable EV in what we consider the signature Tesla style.

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