I have recently read several articles that list the myriad ways that GM should improve the Chevy Bolt EV. My Bolt EV has recently passed 20,000 miles, so I feel that I have enough experience driving the car to suggest some reasonable improvements GM should consider for the 2018 Bolt EV and beyond. I have listed these improvements in order of importance (priority and feasibility) as I see them, and my goal with these suggestions is to make the Bolt EV a more compelling, marketable vehicle.
These lists have a tendency to devolve into discussions of what GM should be doing at a corporate level (building fast chargers, marketing electric vehicles, reining in dealerships, etc.), and I have purposefully avoided those topics. The bottom line is that the Bolt EV is a competent, fully capable car on its own. Any criticisms and suggested improvements should focus on the car itself, and not, necessarily, the manufacturer.
Also, because I am terrible at creating clickbait, I am including my Top 8 list on a single page.
1. Right Hand Drive (RHD)
From a U.S. perspective, this might seem like an odd suggestion to put in the Number 1 spot, but as an electric vehicle advocate, I’d like to see the adoption rate as high as possible. Developing a RHD format for the Bolt EV opens several key markets where GM needs more presence.
The Bolt EV is an ideal car for the United Kingdom, and its size and format would likely appeal to many British drivers. In fact, as a more compelling car than the Nissan Leaf and Renault ZOE, the Bolt EV could see even better sales numbers in a U.K. electric vehicle market that is clearly growing. So really, the U.K. market should be compelling enough on its own, but there are more.
Another key market for RHD vehicles is Australia. In this case, I believe that GM has been burned by poor sales of the Holden Volt, and they did not want to be burned again. While ostensibly, Australia is where electric vehicles go to die, over 50% of Australians state that they would consider buying an electric vehicle. So the question is: Why are more Australians not buying electric vehicles? To me, it appears to be a combination of price and capability, and that is where the Bolt EV shines. If GM can offer a RHD Bolt EV at a low enough price, it will be one of the few affordable electric vehicles reasonably capable of connecting major Australian cities. Having driven numerous 500+ mile trips in the Bolt EV, I can say that only a few DC fast charging stations would be required to connect Adelaide to Melbourne to Sydney to Brisbane.
Finally, the RHD Bolt EV could be a viable entrant to the New Zealand car market. While its market is much smaller – and tends to focus on the used cars – New Zealand has shown a real interest in increasing its electric vehicle population.
2. Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC)
ACC is a feature that allows the driver to set a cruise control speed, and the car will then use onboard sensors to adjust that speed based on other vehicles. In my opinion, ACC must be made available as an option. I personally would not want it, or at least, I would not pay extra for it. However, a number of Bolt EV owners and prospective owners have lamented its omission.
The good news is, if GM follows the same pattern as they did with the second generation Chevy Volt, ACC should be available on the Bolt EV soon (ACC was not an option on the 2016 Volt but became available in on the Volt in 2017). A number of news sites misquoted a GM representative giving the reasons why ACC was not included in the Bolt EV. The Bolt EV does, in fact, have the blended brakes required to enable ACC, so it appears that the reason ACC is not an option is simply GM did not have enough time to program it before release.
3. Plush Interior Option
A softer, gentler interior is another feature that I am not personally interested in. I ordered my Bolt EV in the basic LT trim, and the hard, durable plastics and cloth are exactly what I wanted. And I feel that the Bolt EV’s current interior is appropriate for the base model.
However, many people who were waiting for a reasonably priced, pure battery electric vehicle that could act as their only car were also interested in having a more upscale interior. GM should provide the option for an upgraded, plush interior, which includes soft-touch materials and wider, more thickly cushioned seats.
Prospective owners should be aware, however, that the added weight of a more luxurious interior would likely cost efficiency in addition to the higher MSRP. Regardless, 5 to 10 miles of lost EPA estimated range is a small price to pay on a car that has double the range of its closest competitors.
4. DC Fast Charging Standard
GM decided to make DC fast charging a $750 option on the Bolt EV, and that needs to change. The Bolt EV is far too capable of a car to be hobbled by Level 2 AC charging, which can only add about 25 miles of range per hour of charging. GM can defend the decision to omit DC fast charging as a standard feature on small battery electric vehicles such as the Spark EV or range-extended vehicles such as the Volt. However, with enough range to travel over 200 miles at freeway speeds on a single charge, it is far too tempting to take the Bolt EV on long road trips. Making DC fast charging a standard feature might increase the base MSRP, but the cost of confusing new buyers and impeding sales – due to non-DCFC equipped vehicles languishing on dealership lots – is far greater.
5. DC Charging Speed
GM has built a reputation for long-lasting, durable batteries. That reputation is well deserved, and it is primarily due to GM’s conservative battery strategy, which includes active liquid-cooling, large battery buffers, and low charging speeds. The Chevy Volt epitomizes that strategy, and so far, no Volt has had a battery replaced due to degradation under warranty. And many Volts were sold with a 10-year/150,000 mile battery warranty. GM should adjust that conservative battery strategy with the Bolt EV. Clearly the thermal management and battery buffers can stay, but the charging speeds need to be more aggressive.
The currently available, 50 kW DC fast charging infrastructure is designed for the many small battery electric vehicles that can recharge to 80% capacity in under 30 minutes. Depending on the Bolt EV’s battery level when it is plugged into one of these chargers, it will only gain about 30% of its battery capacity in 30 minutes. The amount of actual range that is recharged is similar regardless of vehicle, but the impression is not. When you regain 90 miles of range in a car that can only travel 110 miles on a charge, it is significant. When you regain 90 miles of range in a car that can travel 238 miles on a charge, the gain feels less substantial. It even feels a bit frustrating.
However, we must give GM some benefit of doubt on this topic because, other than a test charge at 40% battery capacity, we do not know exactly how fast the Bolt EV recharges. Our current predictions are a maximum rate of 55 kW (150 A), but that rate slows after 55% battery capacity. GM should increase the Bolt EV’s charging current to at least 200 A, and they should allow that rate to persist until the battery is 70-80% capacity. That adjustment results in a 75 kW peak charging rate, but more importantly, it enables the Bolt EV to recharge about 190 miles in only 50 minutes.
GM could even consider making this a feature that can be toggled on and off. If the driver is looking to make a quick stop, they can activate the enhanced charging rate so that they can recharge as quickly as possible. On the other hand, if the driver plans to stop for an hour or more, they can allow the Bolt EV to charge at a more conservative rate.
6. Improved User Interface
In general, GM can do a much better job with the Infotainment Center and interface. The screen sometimes freezes and lags, and the buttons can be slow to respond. These issues seem to be purely programming and interface design. Hopefully, the coding is corrected over time, and even existing Bolt EV owners should receive those updates. Unfortunately, some of the issues around the user interface, button placement, etc. could only be corrected for future iterations of the Bolt EV.
Beyond cleaning up the interface and programming, GM should also increase the amount of information and features available to the driver. Some of the information that could be displayed is the battery capacity in kWh, charge power input (amperage, voltage, and kW), and actual power distribution (to the battery, thermal management, and accessories). GM should look at Tesla’s display and apps such as LeafSpy for ideas about the types of information drivers want see displayed. In addition, rather than providing an arbitrary 90% Hilltop Reserve capacity, GM should allow the driver to set incremental reserve capacity limits, such as 0%, 5%, 10%, 15%, and 20%. Again, the core theme here is, give the driver more options and more control.
7. Better Wheels
I recently pulled my stock LT wheels and replaced them with used Chevy Cruze ECO wheels. Given the effort GM put into reducing the Bolt EV’s weight, I was surprised to find the modestly sized (16x6.5) Bolt EV wheels weighed a whopping 23 lbs each. That is 3 lbs heavier than the second generation Volt wheels (just under 20 lbs), and a full 5 lbs heavier than the Cruze ECO wheels (17.8 lbs) that replaced them. To be fair, I have not verified the weight of the Bolt EV Premier wheels, but considering their shape and design, I do not think they are any lighter than the LT wheels.
I have only driven a few hundred miles on the replacement rims, but the improvements were immediately noticeable. Steering input requires less effort, and the steering response is crisper. What is more, I have already observed improved efficiency when driving on winding roads with elevation changes. While my observations purely anecdotal so far, I'm seeing close to a 10% efficiency improvement in winding roads with elevation increases and a more modest 2-3% improvement in mixed driving.
And efficiency is not the only improvement. In MotorTrend's hands, a stock Bolt EV was able to dash to 60 mph in 6.3 seconds. If GM could drop 5 lbs of rotational mass per corner, the Bolt EV's 0-60 mph time could drop into the high 5-second range, and performance sells. (More on that later.)
So why did GM use such heavy wheels on the Bolt EV? The most reasonable explanation is cost. The process of designing and producing lightweight, forged rims is expensive, and the Bolt EV was already pushing the limits of an acceptable price point. Further, if my limited data so far is accurate, adding 5 to 10 miles of range to a car that is already over 100 miles up on its nearest competitor might not have been worth the price increase. However, having driven with the lighter wheels, I feel it is an improvement GM should make. Perhaps they can make them available as an official GM performance part? The poor dealership service centers are going to need something to do with their extra time.
8. AWD Performance Trim
My final suggestion both requires the most engineering and is the least likely to happen; however, I believe it would have the biggest impact. GM should consider making an SS trim for the Bolt EV. The simplest approach would be to add a second 150 kW motor, widen the wheelbase, lower the ride height, and hold on. They might need to increase the battery capacity by 5 kWh to support the increased power demands while maintaining an EPA estimated range of more than 200 miles (not that anyone would ever see 200 miles out of a charge). For an idea of what it should look like and the buzz it is likely to create, GM can simply reference Renault’s ZOE e-Sport concept.
A side benefit is, this might also address Number 3 on my list: Add a plush interior option. Many of the SS trim vehicles come with upgraded interiors, including nicer seats. For those who refuse to consider the Bolt EV simply because of the interior appointments, a Bolt EV SS could give them an additional option to consider.
As if any further justification is needed, performance models also help sales for the entire line up, and a Bolt EV SS would address a gap in the current mid-priced electric vehicle segment: None of them are compelling outside of their being an electric vehicle. The current paradigm for marketing electric vehicles is, “This is an electric vehicle that fits your needs at your price point.” A Bolt EV SS would flip that approach on its head. Instead, GM could say, “You want this car. Oh, and it happens to be all electric.”