Where are all the Chevrolet Bolts? In California!

The Opel Ampera (that’s the German brand for the Chevrolet Bolt) is one of the most anticipated electric vehicles in Germany. The car is the first with affordable pricing options and a battery range that comes close to Tesla’s Model 3. While eagerly anticipated, the car is not coming. First numbers mentioned 400 Bolts coming this year to Germany, but now the numbers seem to be closer to 90(!). And those are mainly showroom cars.But the annual production numbers according to GM were supposed to be around 30,000, but even those numbers seem not to materialize. And this although the car promises a range of 238 miles (380 kilometers), which should bury range anxiety once and for all. With fast charging the car can get 80 miles (128 kilometers) charge in 30 minutes.

Where are now all those Chevrolet Bolts? Answer: In California. GM shipped 3,092 units in the first three months of 2017 in the US, and a few hundred to Canada and South Korea. But here in California I see to many of them that I decided to pay a visit to a Chevrolet dealership. The closest one to me was in Fremont. On the lot were a dozen of them lined up, and my sales person mentioned another 80 on the overflow lot. He promised to be able to get me any configuration and color I desired.

Why are those cars only trickling in small numbers to Germany? Multiple reasons. First, Germany is behind in electric vehicle adoption. he sales numbers are barely noticeable, the German skepticism and hesitation legendary. Then GM sold Opel to the PSA-group with Peugeot-Citroën, and shipping the car to a now competitor let the priority drop. And finally, GM loses with every Bolt sold up to 9,000 dollars.

Why is GM even bothering with the Bolt, if they lose that much money? Certainly not because they suddenly fell in love with electric vehicles. The documentary Who Killed the Electric Car from 2006 looked behind the scenes of GMs story around the relatively successful EV1 that GM recalled from the car users, who fiercely protested the ultimate scrapping of all EV1s. GM considered the EV1 more as a concept vehicle and so-called compliance car, which served fulfilling the strict emission regulation in California. Since then multiple states and countries require car manufacturers to sell a certain percentage of low emission vehicles to reduce the overall fleet emissions.

California for instance requires from manufactures Zero-Emission-Vehicle-credits, that account for 14 percent of all sold vehicles. With GM’s California sales number of 219,000 the manufacturer needs 30,974 of those ZEV-credits. If not, they’d have to buy credits from companies that overfulfilled their quotas. Tesla for example has those in large quantities. Each sold Chevrolet Bolt would earn GM four ZEV-credits. 7,700 Bolts sold would be enough to fulfill the California requirements.

And this is the reason why GM accepts the loss of up to 9,000 dollars per sold Chevrolet Bolt. Not out of love for the environment, but because they’d had to pay penalties in some states and countries. There is no incentive to manufacture and sell more cars than absolutely required by law. Instead of investing into future technologies and maybe drive electric vehicle development, GM chose to spend their money on buy back programs for its own shares. Since 2012 GM spent 16 billion dollars to buy back its own shares with the gal to raise its share price and make investors happy.

So far this strategy has shown little effect. Recently Tesla – a manufacturer with an annual production of 80,000 cars – surpassed GM’s market capitalization – a manufacturer with 10 million cars per year. Tesla’s Market cap is over 55 billion Dollars, GM’s at 52 billion.

The rule is still valid that you can’t cheat into your future. And even after the EV1 PR-disaster and the bankruptcy of 2009 GM seems still to struggle with that idea. The begin of the Tesla Model 3 delivery – under the assumption that Tesla succeeds in pulling it off – will be putting the tragedy of GM’s resistance under a new spotlight. And then it may be too late.

This article has also been published in German.

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