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2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV First Drive

How GM plans to democratize pure electric driving.

LAS VEGAS–General Motors, which arguably changed the landscape for extended-range electric driving with the Chevy Volt, is now trying to better democratize pure electric driving with the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV.

The Bolt should carry a price of under $30,000 after federal tax incentives kick in, and promises over 200 miles of driving range on a single charge. Lease prices have not been announced, but expect something between $199 and $279 per month when it goes in sale at the end of 2016. The prevailing lease price for the Volt is $299 per month, and the Bolt will have to come in under its older sibling.

The formal introduction of the Bolt at the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show coincides with General Motors buying a stake in ride-sharing service Lyft. A central piece of the Lyft investment will eventually entail adding autonomous versions of the Bolt into the Lyft fleet when that technology is ready for prime time and cleared with insurance companies and regulators. But before that takes place, Lyft will serve as a handy place to channel off-lease Bolts when they come back from lease customers.

Chevy’s global brand chief Alan Batey says that electric cars are proving very popular with consumers attracted to ride sharing. “There is a clear connection between the two profiles,” said Batey. “And electric cars are perfect for the kind of ride sharing demand we are seeing in urban centers.”

The 2017 Chevrolet Bolt’s strong suits are its attractive five-door package, with interior space made more generous by the flat floor. The batteries are in the floor of the car, freeing up functional cargo space. The whole architecture is GM’s first purpose-built EV platform since the EV-1 in the 1990s, notes GM product boss Mark Reuss. The architecture is upgradable, and will serve as the basis of more EVs to come.

One of the chief obstacles to selling the Bolt shouldn’t be design or even price. Instead, many car buyers simply do not have EVs on their shopping list when regular gas is below $2.00 per gallon. In a year when the total U.S. auto industry set a sales record, combined EV and plug-in extended range EV sales fell to 116,548 from 123,049 in 2014.

“The important thing for us is that the Bolt removes all reasons people have expressed about not buying an EV,” said Reuss. “Raising the range above 200 miles is a game-changer at this price, as consumers have expressed great acceptance and consideration when the range goes above 150 miles.” Recharging the Bolt to 80 percent of capacity via DC fast charging takes an hour, which means driving coast-to-coast in one is very doable. “There is no reason why this can’t be someone’s primary car,” says Reuss.

Our time with the Bolt was brief and on a closed course near the CES convention area. From a driving standpoint, it can make one think a bit of the BMW i3, though the Bimmer is even more spacious inside than the Bolt and has nicer materials to justify the $40K+ price tag.

The Bolt’s 10.2 inch touchscreen is a delight, and indicates, along with all the connectivity built in to the car, that the Bolt will get a lot of fresh consideration from Millennial “connecterati”–people for whom ease of connectivity while they drive actually trumps horsepower and torque.

OnStar 4G LTE turns the Bolt into a wi-fi hotspot, and the car, of course, has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability. The Bolt also emphasizes outward visibility with a rear-camera mirror and a surround vision system that projects to the screen and provides both wide-angle and bird’s-eye views of what is around the car. Even without that, though, blind spots were not an issue, especially not compared to the Volt.

The Bolt’s smartphone app will allow its owner to do all the de-rigueur functions: remote start, vehicle charge status, cabin climate control before you get in, dealer service schedule, and more. EV-centric mapping allows a Bolt driver to choose the best route to maximize battery life or recharge.

One of the issues confronting carmakers selling EVs is that many dealers either do not want to sell them, or don’t devote resources or training to handle the customers or repairs. Batey says he does not believe that is a problem at Chevrolet. Not every one of Chevy’s 3,000 dealers sells the Volt, or will sell the Bolt. “But I know that every dealer that is part of the Volt network re-upped, so I don’t see it as a problem,” he said.

And in California, where Chevrolet is traditionally weak except for pickup sales, Batey says Bolt is going to “attract a lot of people who have never been inside a Chevy dealership, and that is going to help our whole business.” He is probably right. Unlike the Volt, the Bolt will earn the much coveted single-driver HOV lane sticker.

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Horse Power:

275 @ 5600

Torque:

295 @ 3000