Chevy Bolt: As Lame as its Name?

Chevy Bolt and Mary BarraSound the trumpets! Here comes the next best, all-new, electric wonder-car from General Motors. The dust had not even cleared from the rollout of the new and improved 2016 Chevy Volt when GM CEO Mary Barra announced the newest Tesla-killer from GM, the Chevy Bolt. Let’s hope that the engineers working on the Bolt put more thought into the design of the vehicle than the GM executives put into naming the car.

Seriously, the Bolt? The name sounds like something out of a Disney animated movie. I wonder if the names Ratchet or Socket were in contention. Whatever the case, the name may be new, but the hype is all too familiar.

Barra has touted the new Bolt as being “a real game changer” for GM, just like the previously-hyped Chevy Volt was. Anyone who has paid attention to the Volt debacle would know that the car has been a dismal failure for GM, particularly given the lofty expectations. It is easy to imagine that the results for the Bolt will be as similar to the Volt as is the name.

Reuters reported that GM executives commented on the Bolt, which supposedly will go over 200 miles on a charge for a price of under $30,000, at the Detroit Auto Show this past Monday. The vehicle is only in the concept phase and is not even slated for production yet. Photos show Barra posing with a vehicle that looks a lot like a gussied-up Chevy Sonic, but assurances were made that, this time, GM means business! Barra stated, “Trust me, this is no stripped-down science experiment.” Despite the reassurance, Barra did not give a timetable for when GM would produce the vehicle.

GM product development chief, Mark Reuss, did his part to persuade the public that GM will produce the Tesla-killing Bolt in the near future. Reuss says that GM “has the technology” to build the car in 18 to 24 months. As if that reassurance wasn’t enough to please GM shareholders, Reuters reports that Reuss claims the Bolt “could be profitable.”

It is great news that GM is considering building cars that “could be profitable.” Unfortunately, the potential profitability will again come from the use of smoke and mirrors along with taxpayer funding. Reuss points to the use of emission credits generated under clean air regulations as being the key to profitability for the new Bolt. Under current tax code, each vehicle sold will also be subsidized by a $7,500 federal tax credit, plus state credits.

GM’s friends at CNBC claim that the virtual rollout of the Chevy Bolt sets up a battle with Tesla with this blurb, “The introduction of the Bolt sets up a showdown with Silicon Valley’s Tesla Motors, which plans to deliver a mass-market $35,000 electric car by 2017 that also goes 200 miles per charge.” That sounds eerily familiar to when Cadillac rolled out a competitor to Tesla.

This should be quite a battle, two hypothetical cars that have yet to be seen in a showdown of electric-car potential kings. Despite my virtual excitement for the Bolt, I would have to give Tesla the nod if I were to handicap the match (which is still about two years away) considering that the last challenger from GM to take on Tesla was the Cadillac ELR, a vehicle that is a complete embarrassment to GM and Mary Barra.

Mary Barra continues to focus on plug-in electric cars, despite the continued headwinds for the segment. Reuters recently reported that Fiat Chrysler head, Sergio Marchionne, says the auto industry is wasting money focusing on such vehicles. GM has seen results well below forecasts for their Chevy Volt, Cadillac ELR and electric Chevy Spark, a car that no one even mentions any more. Worst of all, it is questionable that electric cars are even helping the environment.

As if plunging gas prices alone do not call into question GM’s focus on electric vehicles, a new study, reported on by, concludes that gas-powered vehicles are actually cleaner than plug-in electric vehicles. Attributing to that is the fact that 39% of the US power plants run on coal. Production of the lithium-ion batteries adds to the footprint of the supposedly green electric cars; a footprint that is not as clean as advocates of cars like the Chevy Bolt would like to believe. From that article:

“It’s kind of hard to beat gasoline” for public and environmental health, said study co-author Julian Marshall, an engineering professor at the University of Minnesota. “A lot of the technologies that we think of as being clean … are not better than gasoline.”

The key is where the source of the electricity all-electric cars. If it comes from coal, the electric cars produce 3.6 times more soot and smog deaths than those powered by gas, because of the pollution made in generating the electricity, according to the study that is published Monday by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS). They also are greater producers of heat-trapping carbon dioxide that worsens global warming, it found.

The PNAS study examines environmental costs for cars’ entire life cycle, including where power comes from and the environmental effects of building batteries.

“Unfortunately, when a wire is connected to an electric vehicle at one end and a coal-fired power plant at the other end, the environmental consequences are worse than driving a normal gasoline-powered car,” said Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution for Science, who wasn’t part of the study but praised it…

…The study finds all-electric vehicles cause 86 percent more deaths from air pollution than do cars powered by regular gasoline. Coal produces 39 percent of the country’s electricity, according to the Department of Energy.

So, there you have it; GM will continue to focus on building electric cars that apparently do nothing to help the environment while shareholders and taxpayers foot the bill. Past attempts by GM to fool the public and investors into thinking they have “game changing” green vehicles that have mass-market appeal have proven to be bogus. The media falls for the ploy every time by hyping cars like the Volt, electric Spark, Cadillac ELR and now the Chevy Bolt. That sounds like the definition of insanity.

Mark Modica is an NLPC Associate Fellow.