Chevrolet's electric Bolt beats Tesla Model 3 on range

With its first long-range electric car, General Motors released figures Tuesday that show it is focused on beating Tesla at its own game.

Bolt is expected to be priced at about $37,500 to start, close to the same price point for the Model 3, Tesla's first mass-market car. At present, Tesla sells only luxury models. The Model S electric sedan comes in versions ranging from 218 to 315 miles per charge.

Analysts think the Chevy Bolt, a five-passenger hatchback, could play a huge role in the same way that the Chevrolet Volt pioneered plug-in hybrids. Bolt could steal the limelight from Tesla, which has a devoted following and about 400,000 pre-orders for the Model 3.

"The Chevrolet Bolt represents the first 'real' electric car in the history of the automobile," says Karl Brauer, analyst for Kelley Blue Book. Before now, electric vehicles have either had practical ranges per charge of about 100 miles or less, or in the case of Tesla, were priced sky high.

"Now the Bolt arrives with a real-world range and real-world price," Brauer says. "This combination doesn’t guarantee success, but it will finally put EV technology to a real-world test in appealing to real-world, mainstream consumers."

Bolt, which is built near Detroit, is roomy, comfortable, quiet and most of all normal. Driving it feels like driving any other good small hatchback or sedan. But there are differences below the skin: The brakes and drivetrain were engineered to recapture energy for maximum range, including a button on the steering wheel that allows the driver to bring the car to a halt without touching the brake pedal.

To boost range, the Bolt's weight was kept to a minimum. For instance, chief engineer Josh Tavel says the front seats are thinner, lighter and have more springs and less cushioning than conventional seats.

“There’s a ton of data that says a 200-mile range is the point at which there’s a big change in the number of people to switch to an electric vehicle,” Tavel said. “It’s all about customer convenience.”

Bolt's batteries are placed in a thin layer under the floor, which increases passenger and cargo space. Designers also lowered the Bolt’s center of gravity more than an inch compared with conventional cars, contributing to more responsive handling than the car’s tall profile suggests.

There’s plentiful headroom, an accommodating back seat and more cargo space than most midsize sedans. The Bolt is slightly longer, and much roomier than, a typical subcompact hatchback.

“Before the Bolt, people had to pay $60,000 to $200,000 for an EV that could go 200 miles on a charge,” said John Voelcker, editor of Green Car Reports. “Eighty percent of U.S. drivers travel less than 40 miles a day. The Bolt takes away the major reason people don’t buy EVs and gives the technology a new level of affordability.”

The Bolt is also a keystone of GM’s strategy for autonomous vehicle and ride-sharing services like Lyft and Maven.

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