Eric Peters: More electric car Kool Aid

eric-petersBy Eric Peters

I had planned to review the new Chevy Bolt electric car based on a test drive – but GM has rescinded my privileges for reasons knownst only to them but strongly suspected by me. So, this review will focus on the things that are knownst about the Bolt without actually having driven the thing.

Which would have been a challenge regardless – given its maximum range is “up to” 238 miles.

Beware the “up to.” It is marketing cheese.

production-line-300x185They never say “at least.”

It is always the most optimistic – and almost never actually achievable – scenario. (See late night infomercials about real estate/multi-level marketing flim-flams.)

This “up to” business is something to consider carefully when considering a pure electric car like the Bolt. Because unlike a hybrid electric car like the Volt (which isn’t a bad car, actually; see my review based on actual pre GM contretemps seat time) when the Bolt runs out of juice you are dead in the water for at least – not “up to” – half an hour to 45 minutes.

That’s assuming you can find and plug into a high voltage “fast” charger.

These are not generally available, however. Which means plugging into a regular 120V household outlet, just like you would a toaster.

17-bolt-dashboard-300x167And that means hours of recharge time – probably overnight.

So, “up to” 238 miles is dicey. Unless you’re in no hurry.

In real-world driving it is probable the Bolt’s range is less than 238 miles.

Especially in electric car-unfriendly conditions such as very hot days when you’ll want to run the AC (which is run by the batteries) or very cold days (when you’ll want heat, also made electrically in the Bolt) or at night when you’ll want to turn the headlights on (also drains the battery).

The Bolt’s “up to” range also probably assumes slow driving.

Electrics do their best when they aren’t actually moving. When they are stationary. This is how a hybrid saves gas. The IC engine shuts down while the vehicle is “idling” at a red light. The electric motor/battery pack combo is very efficient during low-speed/stop-and-go driving.

17-bolt-batteries-300x199But on the highway, at high speeds, the dynamic changes.

When I test drove the Volt, I got about 50 miles down the road on the batteries. Which is very good for an electric car. But it also isn’t very far. Thank god for the IC engine the Volt carries around as a back-up generator. Without it, the Volt is useless for other than commuting.

The Bolt hasn’t got IC back-up.

Once its batteries wilt, you walk. Even if it does go “up to” 238 miles, regardless of AC (and heat) use, or burning headlights, or driving 75 on the highway – that’s still not genug for a trip to Disneyland … unless you happen to live “up to” no more than 238 miles away.

And if the actual/real-world range is say 100 miles or so… .

I asked GM to send me one, so I could find out what the real deal is – and report that to you.

soup-nazi-300x225But they are withholding – which is telling.

If the car does have a realistic 200-plus mile range, you’d think they’d want it confirmed by skeptical journalists such as myself. I did, after all, write honestly – favorably – about the Volt.

When a major car company holds its cards close about a car, you have to wonder about the car.

But these are speculations. Let’s return to facts.

A Bolt stickers for $36,620.

A Sonic hatchback – very similar car except for its drivetrain – stickers for $17,580. This is roughly half the price of the Bolt.

17-sonic-300x167Put another way, you’d spend $19,040 to buy a Bolt rather than a Sonic.

Or, put the $19k and change in your pocket instead.

And use it to fill up the Sonic.

Unleaded regular is currently selling for about $2.20 per gallon. You could buy 8,654 gallons of gas with the money you didn’t spend on the Bolt.

The Sonic’s “combined” mileage with its standard 1.8 liter IC engine 30 MPG according to the EPA (26 city, 35 highway).

dr-evil-300x156At that rate, you could drive your new Sonic (cue Dr. Evil voice) maybe not one million miles… but around a quarter-million miles (259,620).

In other words, “break even” (if you bought the Bolt) is a very long way down the road.

Now, you would get a government give-away (i.e., a tax subsidy) of about $7k for buying the Bolt rather than the IC-engined Sonic.

The math still sucks.

The price of gas would need to double or triple before the Bolt – before any pure electric car – even begins to make economic sense.

And practical sense remains dicey regardless of the cost of fuel.

17-volt-on-flatbed-300x225Maybe the Bolt can travel “up to” 238 miles.

The Sonic (which I have driven) absolutely can go almost twice as far (402.6 miles) and it can be refueled and ready for another 400.2 miles in less than 5 minutes at any gas station.

Which – unlike a “fast” charger – isn’t hard to find.

We live in a fast-paced world. People chafe at waiting 5 minutes in a Drive-thru for their lunch. Who believes people will wait 30-45 minutes for their electric car to recharge every 200 miles or so?

How about every 100 miles or so?

How about for several hours?

on-da-pipe-300x169But let’s go back to the facts.

There is no way to juggle the numbers and have the Bolt come out as the economically sensible choice.

And for $36k – to start – you could by a Lexus.

Maybe not an electric one. But so?

If economy is no longer the criteria, if function isn’t a factor, then brand cachet and luxury and performance must be.

The Bolt looks like what it is – a subcompact Chevy economy car. Only it’s not exactly economical.

17-bolt-side-view-300x142It’s also not exactly luxurious, either.

Ok, it comes standard with 17 inch wheels and a large (10.2 inch) LCD touchscreen. The base Sonic has 15 inch wheels and a smaller (7 inch) LCD touchscreen. Both cars come standard with AC and power windows and locks. The Bolt has a better stereo (six speakers vs. the Sonic’s four) but both have 4G in-car WiFi and Bluetooth and the same basic suite of apps.

Is it worth paying almost $20k more to get two more speakers and a 3 inch larger touchscreen?

The Bolt is quicker – zero to 60 takes about 7 seconds vs. about 8.4 for the IC-engined Sonic.

17-bolt-last-300x183Neither car is slow.

But the Sonic goes much farther, with much less hassle.

For about half the price.

So, you tell me. Would you buy one?

People didn’t buy the Spark EV. It went over like a box of dildos sent to the Pope.

I’d love to be able to tell you more about the way the Bolt drives. But GM would have to let me drive one.

Or rather, flatbed one down to me.

I guess we’ll see!



Eric Peters is the automotive columnist for the Southern Arizona News-Examiner. Visit his website for all things automotive at




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