Why I got the Chevrolet Bolt EV

June Lake loop

(This is the first of a series of posts on the 2019 Chevy Bolt I bought in March of 2019.  As of this writing, I have driven almost 20,000 miles on the car and am still quite liking it)

When I went car shopping in March of 2019, I was looking for an affordable, fun electric vehicle with sufficient range to cover my daily commute and weekend trips under 200 miles.  This would essentially replace the 1997 Honda Del Sol that was my daily driver.  The Del Sol, a small, fun and 2-seater with a targa top, returned a surprisingly high 30MPG in my local driving, but at 280,000 miles and $2,000/year in gasoline costs, I was starting to itch for something newer and less thirsty.

Now until late 2016, battery-powered Electric Vehicles (BEVs) came in two flavors: large, expensive luxury vehicles with reasonable range (>200 miles range, >$60,000) and smaller, affordable limited-range vehicles (50-110 miles range, $20,000-$35,000).  This all changed in 2016.  Firstly, Tesla announced in March that their Model 3 luxury sedan would arrive in the next year, with a $35,000 price tag and a >200 mile range.  Even though the vehicle wouldn’t be available for another year, it garnered a lot of attention.  Secondly, in December General Motors actually shipped their second BEV, the Chevrolet Bolt hatchbac, which they had announced in February 2015, with an EPA-estimated range of 238 miles and a $37,500 price (before rebates).

As you might imagine, most people when offered a choice between getting a Chevy hatchback and a Tesla luxury sedan for a similar price, opted for the former.  The Tesla promised autopilot, an excellent fast-charging network and frequent updates.  The Bolt simply claimed to be good transportation.  The combination of features and tech cachet meant that Tesla racked up 500,000 pre-orders before the first Model 3 shipped in July 2017, and it wasn’t until mid 2019 that the $35,000 version of the Model 3 actually became available.  (In fact Tesla went so far as to hide the lowest-priced Model 3 – since June 2019 it could only be ordered by phone – it is not shown on their website.).  Meanwhile GM has sold Bolts at a modest rate of 1,500-2,000/month since introduction.

The most confusing thing when comparing the Tesla Model 3 and the Chevy Bolt in March 2019 was the pricing.  Nominally, the Tesla was $2,500 less.  The reality was somewhat different.  The Model 3 was $35,000 (MSRP) – $3,750 (Federal EV tax credit) – $2,500 (CA EV Rebate) – $800 (PG&E EV rebate) + $4,000 (tax and title) = $31,950.  The Bolt was $37,500 (MSRP)+ $750 (DC fast charging option)  – $7,500 (Federal EV tax credit) – $5,250 (dealer discount) – $4,200 (Chevy rebate) – $2,500 (CA EV Rebate) – $800 (PG&E EV rebate) + $4,000 (tax and title) = $22,000.  The difference came down basically to Chevy and their dealer discounting the car by nearly $9,500, and the federal credit being double (due to Chevy selling fewer EVs up to that point).  Moreover, the base Tesla had a range of only 220 miles.  To increase that to 240 miles would cost an additional $2,000.  If you wanted any color other than black (and I do – black is a terrible color for a car in a hot climate), that was an additional $1,500.

So in the end, rather than comparing a $35,000 Model 3 to a $37,500 Bolt, I found myself looking at a $35,500 Model 3 and $22,000 Bolt.

To be fair, for that extra $13,000 the Model 3 did offer features that were simply unavailable on the Bolt.  The most important (to me) was access to their nationwide fast-charging (‘Supercharger’ network).  The Bolt’s fast charging by comparison was quite limited, both in network (though this is improving) and in speed (3-5x slower than Tesla).  They also have a panoramic sunroof and multi-zone climate control, though I wouldn’t consider either essential.  Tesla’s excellent adaptive cruise-control was also available – as an option for another $3,000.  The Model 3 was also in theory the sportier car – lower seating position, lower center of gravity, and a faster 0-60MPH run.

At the same time, the Bolt had a couple of advantages over the Tesla.  First, the car was considerably more compact – almost 2 feet shorter than the Tesla – without a big loss of seating room.  The Bolt also offered the utility of a hatchback – storage of large items in the back was not an issue.  While the Bolt did include a sizable touchscreen, it also had a lot of analog controls, vs. the almost-entirely screen-based controls of the Tesla.  The Bolt’s screen too offered integration with Apple Carplay and Android Auto, rather than Tesla’s custom software package.  Finally, the Bolt lacked Tesla’s ubiquitous call-home features – the normal use of the vehicle requires no data connection and constant surveillance.

For my part, I decided the Bolt fit my needs/requirements better and that’s what I went with.  Today things haven’t changed too much – the price difference is more or less the same – although Tesla has added a few more software features to the Model 3.  I certainly think the Tesla is the car with more potential going forward, but the price, in dollars, privacy and interface, is a bit steep.  Perhaps if they come out with a sub-$30,000 Model 1 hatchback, I will have to reconsider.

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