Looking Into the Future of Affordable Electric Cars
Elon Musk’s new Tesla Model 3 may have garnered all of the media’s attention last night at the car’s debut, but it won’t be the affordable first mass-market electric vehicle with at least 200 miles (322 km) of range to hit the market. That honor goes to the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt, which is slated to go on sale later this year. While Tesla promises we’ll have more details on the Model 3 as we get closer to its late 2017 release date, here’s an early look at how the two soon-to-be-rivals stack up.
The chief concern with any electric vehicle purchase is how far it can go before it has to be recharged. One of the Tesla Model S’ reasons for success has been how far it can go on a charge, and both Tesla and GM know full well that they need to beat the sub-100 mile (161 km) ranges of today’s affordable electric cars with the Model 3 and Bolt. In order to do so, both have fit big batteries in their EVs.
The Chevrolet Bolt features a fairly large 60 kWh lithium ion battery, mounted flat and low underneath the floor. This allows the battery to both lower the Bolt’s center of gravity for better handling, and function as a key structural component to the car. The battery powers an efficient front-mounted electric motor, which produces 200 hp and 266 lb-ft of torque. Like most electric cars, the Bolt’s motor is paired with a single-speed automatic transmission. It’ll likely take the Bolt a little less than 7 seconds to accelerate from 0-60 mph. Chevy is claiming that the Bolt “will offer more than 200 miles (322 km) of range” on a full charge.
Tesla has been mum on battery details for the Model 3, but some back-of-a-napkin math would seem to indicate that the Model 3 has a 65- to 70-kWh lithium ion battery pack, which is the same size as the Model S’ smallest battery pack. The battery is mounted underneath the floor, just like in Tesla’s other offerings and the Bolt. The Model 3 will be available in single or dual motor configurations (both paired with one-speed automatics), with the latter likely offering both range and performance improvements. Tesla isn’t talking power outputs yet for the Model 3, but it’s a safe assumption that single motor rear drive models will at least have similar horsepower levels to the Bolt. Tesla says the Model 3 will have an EPA-rated range of at least 215 miles (346 km), with yet-to-be-announced larger battery packs offering up more range. Elon Musk, Tesla’s head honcho, says the Model 3 will accelerate from 0-60 mph in less than six seconds.
When it comes to charging, Tesla’s singular focus on electric cars might give the Model 3 an edge over the Bolt. All Model 3s will be compatible with Tesla’s Supercharger infrastructure, which currently consists of 613 individual stations with 3628 charge points between them spread across the United States. This rapidly expanding network is free to use for Tesla owners, allows coast-to-coast travel, and most importantly will likely allow Model 3 owners to charge their batteries from nearly empty to nearly full within a half an hour or so. Tesla currently claims a best-case charge scenario of 170 miles (274 km) of range within 30 minutes of Supercharging for Model S and Model X owners; it’ll likely be the same story for the Model 3.
The Chevy Bolt on the other hand lacks the true quick-charge capability of the Model 3. When paired with a level 2 charger, Chevy says Bolt drivers can expect to charge from nearly empty to about an 80-percent charge in about 60 minutes, which works out to around 160 miles (257 km) of range. Level 2 charging and indeed any public charging with the Bolt will likely require joining a public charging network like ChargePoint, which typically has chargers located inside major cities, but not outside, making long-distance intercity travel difficult at best. At home charging with either car via a 240 volt outlet will likely take around 9 hours or so for either car.
Both Tesla and Chevrolet are claiming their EVs will be on the “affordable” end of the pricing spectrum, and with the average new vehicle in the U.S. costing about $33,000 USD and change, the competing automaker’s claims appear to be true. At yesterday’s debut of the Model 3, Musk said that starting price for the new Tesla sedan will be $35,000 USD, later tweeting that selling price for a Model 3 with an “average option mix” would probably be about $42,000 USD. While again Tesla says it’ll release more details on the Model 3 at a later date, the car does come well equipped. Tesla’s semi-autonomous AutoPilot technology will be standard on all Model 3s, as will a full-length glass roof, and a 15-inch center-mounted touch screen display, which functions as both the driver’s instrument panel and infotainment display with navigation, phone and media information. It’s not inconceivable to expect a fully-loaded Model 3 to top out around $65,000 USD or so, with options like an air suspension, larger wheels, sport tires, all-wheel drive, premium audio, heated seats, and more.
Chevy Bolt hatchback pricing was announced at $37,500 USD back in January, though pricing could still fluctuate closer to the car’s winter launch. Standard features include a big 10.2-inch MyLink infotainment system with an EV-specific navigation function, 360-degree cameras, and Wi-Fi. Based on how Chevy positioned the Spark EV, there will likely be another higher-spec trim level priced in the low $40,000 USD range that will come with safety features like forward collision alert and blind spot assistance, as well as leather.
Both the Bolt and Model 3 currently qualify for a federal $7500 USD electric vehicle tax incentive, plus any available state EV incentives, which can range from $0 to $8000 USD, depending on which state you live in. Base for base though, the Model 3 looks to undercut the Bolt, ringing out at $27,500 USD with federal incentives to the Bolt’s $30,000 USD.
While it’s interesting to see how the Chevrolet Bolt and Tesla Model 3 stack up on paper, it’ll be even more entertaining to see how the two cars stack up on the road. For that, we’ll unfortunately have to bide our time. The Chevy Bolt goes on sale in the fourth quarter of this year in EV-friendly states on the West Coast before rolling out nationwide. First deliveries of the Tesla Model 3 likely begin at the very end of 2018, with West Coast-based current Tesla owners getting first dibs. Most of the nearly 200,000 who pre-ordered the Model 3 in the past week can expect to get their cars in 2020 as Tesla slowly ramps up production in its Fremont, Calif. factory and its Nevada battery-building “GigaFactory.”