Game Changer: First Drive of the Chevy Bolt at the Consumer Electronics Show

Having launched the first serious electric vehicle during his time at General Motors, our founder weighs in on the Chevy Bolt. It’s a potential game changer that hits the market dead-center.

A red and an orange Chevrolet Bolt sit in front of a new home at Babcock Ranch on Florida’s Gulf Coast.

A red and an orange Chevrolet Bolt sit in front of a new home at Babcock Ranch on Florida’s Gulf Coast. The electric vehicle is an attractive blend of range, comfort, convenience, cargo capacity and useful features drivers need. Second photo: Electric and roomy? The Chevy Bolt boasts useful cargo capacity.

At the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), I took part in the first-ever test drive of the all new Chevy Bolt, an electric vehicle that’s designed for the real world. It was an impressive first look at the car and my recent drive of the production version confirmed my sense of the vehicle.

There has been so much press about Tesla that the world seems to be overlooking practical and affordable electric vehicle solutions that are in the market today, to say nothing of the 130 planned new entries over the next few years.

It was also fascinating for me to come full circle. Several years before founding NewHomeSource, I was the head of strategic planning for Advanced Vehicle Engineering at General Motors. In 1989, we launched the first serious electric vehicle, the EV2, at the Los Angeles Auto Show.

There’s a saying in the car business: “You can sell 50,000 of anything,” so, I have yet to be impressed by the sales numbers of Tesla. Don’t interpret this as Tesla bashing. I applaud Tesla for the courage and conviction they’ve demonstrated and their leadership in the market. I also think their marketing and product decisions have been brilliant.

The fact remains that as of yet, electric vehicles have failed to sway the masses. I am not a disbeliever. To the contrary, I fully believe the electrification of transportation is inevitable. When and how the market reaches that tipping point is the question. For electrification to yield the societal benefits that we hope for, new and legacy firms combined will need to ultimately sell millions of electric vehicles each year.

The rear cargo space in the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt can carry a chair and much more. That brings me to my first test drive of the Chevy Bolt at CES and my recent drive of production models in Texas. Having driven a Chevy Volt for several years, I was already intimately familiar with GM’s electric drive platform. I was impressed by the total package during my first drive of the pre-production Bolt. The feeling was recently confirmed with production vehicles I experienced at a local dealer.

What I find impressive about the new Chevy Bolt is that it solves real problems for real people. It hits the market dead-center. It’s not the most forward-leaning design, or the most technically advanced vehicle. What it is, though, is a really solid vehicle that is easy and fun to drive, as well as practical, affordable and approachable by anyone.

Forget gullwing doors or the need to open your glovebox via touch screen. The Bolt gives you the utility of a crossover vehicle or small SUV and the economy of an electric vehicle — in a package that requires no driver retraining. Plus, you can go test drive one and pick it up today!

I found the Bolt’s crossover configuration felt larger than a Prius (which I also own and love), with more room and utility. The build quality was terrific, for both the pre-production version we test drove and the production vehicles I recently inspected. I can speak personally from my experience with the two Chevy Volts that I own: GM seems to have its act together with respect to quality and reliability on the electric platform.

While not pushing the technology envelope as far as Tesla, the Bolt does provide us with a few pleasant surprises; it comes with Apple Car Play and Android Auto, making smartphone connectivity a breeze. It also has a slick rear view mirror that is actually a camera and screen — so much for putting your makeup on. The 360-degree view of the vehicle is also a cool nod to advanced sensor integration.

While not a rocket ship, the electric drive is very responsive, with a claimed 0-60 mph time of 6.7 seconds. Handling is firm and responsive. But, of course, the elephant in the room with electric vehicles is range anxiety. Here again, the Bolt delivers. It solves real world problems for real drivers with real day-to-day needs, delivering a useful range of nearly 250 miles.

My definition of a great new product is one that uses new technologies to solve real world problems to make your life better in meaningful ways. By that measure, the Bolt succeeds. Is it the game changer that will tip the scales to one million electric vehicle sales per year? We’ll see, but meanwhile, it’s a very attractive blend of range, comfort, convenience, cargo capacity and useful features drivers need.
Tim Costello is Chairman and CEO of Builder Homesite, Inc. Dedicated to the digital transformation of the homebuilding industry, BHI is owned by a consortium of 30 leading builders and also serves thousands of client builders. NewHomeSource.com, the firm's flagship website, is the leading real estate website for newly built homes.

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