Despite the media narrative of late, the Bolt is stinking up the joint. GM is idling its Bolt plant and has a 111-day supply. So who beat whom? Remember, the Honda Insight beat the Prius to the US market by a few months. And the rest is history.
Despite a year’s worth of high-profile headlines — in the New York Times, Wired and recently Business Insider — about GM beating Tesla to market with a really good EV, today we learn that the Bolt isn’t selling. Dealers are polarized in their treatment of the car, but neither treatment is generating sales. They’re either discounting the Bolt heavily, or marking them over sticker price while they await buses of super-excited Bolt customers who’ve never heard of Tesla.
It’s clear that Tesla has paralyzed the EV market. No electrified Sonic will break that paralysis. And so the myriad journalists who’ve been writing about the Bolt vs Model III battle obviously made very dumb assumptions about parity between the two cars, and the two companies behind them. Yes, the cars have similar starting prices and range, and yes, both companies make cars. That’s good enough for auto journalists in 2017? Then journalism is beyond dead.
And regarding the calendar, it’s not the chief determinant of who beat whom. Honda scored a similar “calendar victory” over Toyota when the two companies released their first hybrids in the late 1990s. The Insight beat the Prius to the US market by a few months.
And, um, the rest is history.
That is the question — for the very few people who are somehow ambivalent about which brand should get their business. Most potential buyers already have their minds made up, even before the ☰ springs from the cake March 31. What makes TeslaMondo so sure about this?
EVs are statements. When you buy abnormal transportation, you believe you’re saying something, about a bunch of things. You are philosophically invested in the purchase. The car affects your social image, and your self-image, much more than a normal car does.* And so you don’t make the decision lightly. Choosing Bolt vs ☰ isn’t like choosing Camry vs Accord. It’s more like choosing a president. Try finding someone who is ambivalent about Trump vs Sanders vs Clinton.
EV buyers, even newcomers, are tech-savvy and therefore net-savvy. They read lots of sites and peruse lots of forums. They know more about Tesla than the average man on the street. And most importantly, they know GM is trying to hassle Tesla. They might know the details (the Bolt photo-ops near Tesla HQ, the Barra jab during the Bolt debut, the GM letters to state pols about banning Tesla, the Bob Lutz dissage**), but even if they don’t know the details, they’re probably aware of some friction, and they’ve already decided how to vote with their wallets.
An EV purchase usually isn’t urgent. Very few people will order a Bolt just because they’re hard-up for wheels and can’t wait for a Tesla ☰. These buyers aren’t poor or transportation-deprived. If TeslaMondo is wrong about this, and GM really does grab a first-mover advantage, then watch for a flood of three-year-old Bolts hitting the used market circa 2020 as people try to get into a ☰, or even a Y. By then, the Gig should hit full song. Tesla products should be readily-available.
GM has shown its cards. That’s the problem with going first. So how strong is GM’s hand? TeslaMondo sees a pair of sevens. Like, wow.
*With time, of course, EVs will become normal transportation.
**He’s still considered a GM guy.
It’s spring, 2017. Tesla dominates every automotive website and is becoming a household name even among non-enthusiasts. Everyone is talking about the Gigafactory, and the imminent Model III and its very large customer waiting list. Along comes the Chevy Bolt. It’s available already. No waiting around for that hyped Model III. You can have a cheap-ish Chevy with good range right now, for about the same price. GM is publicly patting itself on the back for beating Tesla to the punch. Yes, GM is the real innovator ’round these parts. The General began that PR push in 2015 and hasn’t let up.
But here’s the question of 2017: Would you rather have a Chevy immediately or a Tesla very soon, for about the same money? What about your friends/relatives/coworkers? Would they pull the trigger and get a Bolt instead of waiting a few months for a Tesla?
If you can’t imagine yourself or anyone you know choosing a GM product over a similarly-priced, similarly-timed, American-made Tesla, that should tell you something about GM’s ability to poach Tesla customers. Here’s the reality: Assuming the Bolt does indeed narrowly beat the Model III to market, it will function merely as an opening act, as in a rock concert. It will prime the public for the new wave of affordable, long-range EVs. The beneficiary of all this? Tesla, the company whose products are to electric vehicles what Kleenex is to facial tissue, Vaseline is to ointments and Prius is to hybrids. (By the way, the Honda Insight beat the Prius to market in the US by seven months. Yes, the now-extinct Honda Insight.)
So thank you, General Motors, for deciding to warm up the audience. Perhaps someday you’ll become the headliner.