Chevy Bolt: First Pure Electric Car With Good Range, Price

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Tony Ding/APGM says the Chevrolet Bolt can go 200 miles between charges and will cost around $30,000.
General Motors (GM) confirmed on Thursday that it will build the innovative Chevrolet Bolt, an electric car that is expected to offer 200 miles of range at an affordable price.

A concept version of the Bolt was unveiled in Detroit last month. GM North America chief Alan Batey said in a statement that consumer demand had convinced the company to put the electric model into production.

The Bolt Is a Big Step Forward for Affordable Electric Cars

What makes the Chevy Bolt special is this: When it goes into production, likely in late 2016, it's expected to be the first battery-electric car to offer 200 miles of range at a mass-market price -- "around $30,000," GM promises.

That advantage comes from new batteries that GM is developing with Korean partner LG Chem. In time, those batteries could give lots of electric cars more range at lower cost -- but GM appears to be the first automaker set to bring a car powered by the new batteries to market.

That's a big deal. Right now, the only all-electric car with that kind of range is Tesla Motors' (TSLA) Model S sedan. But in addition to being an electric car with good range, the Model S is a big, powerful luxury sedan. And it's priced accordingly: The Model S starts at over $70,000, with well-equipped versions breaking into six figures.

Right Now, Options Are Limited -- in More Ways Than One

If you have "around $30,000" to spend and want an electric car now, your choices are limited. Nissan's (NSANY) Leaf is affordable, at a starting price of just over $29,000 ($21,510 after a federal tax credit for electric-car buyers), but its EPA-rated range on a single charge is just 84 miles. Ford (F) offers an electric version of its Focus in limited numbers at a similar price, but its range is even less impressive: 76 miles, per EPA testing.

There are a few others, including an electric version of Chevy's aptly-named Spark minicar. But the Leaf is the best-seller by far -- GM's only serious rival to it is the Chevy Volt, which despite its name is functionally a plug-in hybrid, not a pure electric car.

Nissan has hinted that the next-generation Leaf will have much greater range than the current model. Analysts expect it to arrive in about 2017, making it the most likely direct competitor for the new Chevy Bolt -- but little is known about Nissan's plans at this point.

Will Mainstream Americans Flock to the Little Electric Chevy?

So will the Bolt be the car that converts Americans to electric vehicles in huge numbers? It seems unlikely -- or, at least, it seems that GM doesn't expect it to be likely. GM said that it was investing $200 million in tooling and equipment to produce the Bolt at a factory just north of Detroit. Reports citing sources at companies that supply parts have said that GM plans to produce 25,000 to 30,000 Bolts a year.

That would represent a step up from recent sales volumes of the Chevy Volt, which sold just over 18,000 in the U.S. last year. But it's a far cry from the 500,000 annual sales that Tesla is aiming to post in 2020, just five years from now.

Still, it's a significant step forward for a U.S. automaker that on one hand has been maligned for its reliance on gas-guzzling trucks and SUVs -- but on the other hand, was an electric-car pioneer with its EV1 over 20 years ago. Will consumers embrace it? We'll find out.

Motley Fool contributor John Rosevear owns shares of Ford and General Motors. The Motley Fool recommends Ford, General Motors, and Tesla Motors. The Motley Fool owns shares of Ford and Tesla Motors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. To read about our favorite high-yielding dividend stocks for any investor, check out our free report.
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