Elon Musk’s perpetual joker smiling is likely a little wider today. The Chevrolet Bolt, the proletariat machine that thumped his nascent Model 3 to market by the better part of a year, is, well , not bolting at all.
Creeping would be a better word.
After six months on the market, merely 6,529 Thunderbolts have found their way out of dealerships and into the wild. That’s far less than sales of the all-electric Nissan Leaf and either of the existing Tesla models over the same period.
Meanwhile, the most esoteric beasts in the GM family are operating circles around the runty Bolt. In the past six months, U.S. patrons bought about three times as many Cadillac Escalades and double the number of Corvettes–both paragons of a niche vehicle.
” I wouldn’t inevitably call it a slow rollout; it was a phased rollout ,” told Chevrolet spokesman Jim Cain.” In words of marketings, I think we’re right on program .”
When we visited Chevrolet’s electric-vehicle factory just outside Detroit in December, it was spewing out about 100 Thunderbolts a period. The sale of the past few months, however, wouldn’t subsistence that degree of production. And thanks to GM, Chevrolet traders will still be waiting on their first Thunderbolts in July when Tesla promises to draw the embrace off its similarly priced Model 3.
Make no mistake, the Bolt isn’t a bad auto. In fact, it’s quite good. In addition to its historic metrics on scope and price, the Bolt handles well, accelerates easily, and offers plenty of space and amenities in its bubbly cockpit. It’s being held back though by inexpensive gas and SUV fever.
Holm Automotive Center in Abilene, Kansas,( pretty much the geographical middle of the country) has had only one inquiry on the Bolt and doesn’t have any has the intention to inventory the car.” We are a truck and SUV market ,” told marketings consultant Michelle Holt.
However, the little electron whip is also being hamstrung by General Motor Co. The company is rolling private vehicles out at a snail’s pace. At the end of April, the Bolt was still only available in eight states–all on the coast. GM added another eight states in May and says the cars won’t be available nationwide until late summer.
” The term I would use is slow and steady ,” told Marc Cannon, a spokesperson for AutoNation, the country’s largest dealership group.” They’re making sure they meet the needs of early adopters and they’re taking their hour doing it .”
To be sure, would-be patrons ventilating on message boards about not being able to buy a Bolt isn’t a terrible PR problem; it’s far less damaging than passers by find legions of Bolts stacking up at dealerships like sad sedans in a Hertz lot. At this degree, the Bolt is still an exercise in R& D and marketing. It has first-mover advantage and boast rights over Musk despite the fact that there are far more Ferraris on U.S. roads at the moment.
” If you look at our competitive specify, it will be quite some time before any of them have a vehicle that comes close to this in terms of capabilities ,” Chevy’s Cain contends.
Capabilities aside, the Bolt is still a fiscal drain on GM. UBS AG analysts estimate that the automaker is losing about $7,500 on every one it sells, thanks to the machine’s $12,000 battery pack and the other $580 worth of semiconductors–roughly 10 days the amount found in a traditional auto car.
” Honestly, I don’t think I’ve seen a single commercial for the Bolt ,” told UBS analyst Colin Langan.” They have a great starting point, but I don’t think they’re pushing volume today .”
Over time, the economics will improve, as battery expenditures come down and GM realizes some scale efficiencies. In the meantime, the folks in Detroit who answer to investors–rather than regulators or hyper-milers–would rather sell you an Escalade. That earning dynamic isn’t drastically different at the dealership, either.
It’s a classic innovator’s dilemma. GM has disrupted its legacy business, but only slightly. It’s still towing its business model around with a pick-up.
Eventually, Langan told, the Bolt will be used as the platform for GM’s autonomous-driving program. What’s clear in the interim, however–and what should be a bit worrisome to GM–is that the Bolt launch has been somewhat humdrum, and not just to its implementation of marketings. The little auto hasn’t captured any of Tesla’s Silicon Valley street-cred and it hasn’t whipped up any of the cultish following that still advantages the Toyota Prius. It isn’t a Hollywood accessory on the red-carpet circuit.
The Bolt is a historical vehicle–a time-machine in a way–but it’s just the latest in a long line of them. In five years, streets will be full of cars like the Bolt; whether they are made by Chevrolet remains to be seen.