Tesla Model 3 vs. Chevy Bolt: Can Electric Cars Go Mainstream?


Automakers produce about 90 million cars each year, but less than 2 percent of those are electric vehicles, said Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk in Hong Kong last week. The company's upcoming Model 3, likely its "most profound car" so far, could make the most compelling case for EVs yet, but that's if the Chevy Bolt EV doesn't steal Tesla Motors' thunder.

If all goes according to plan, Chevy will beat Tesla to the punch. Tesla is expected to unveil the Model 3 in March with the product set to release in 2017, while Chevy will start cranking out Bolts by the end of this year.

The Bolt and Model 3 match up favorably, as does the companies behind them. Chevy has the auto-making heritage and the dealer network, while Tesla has the attention and it may have the edge in charging technology.

Price Points

The Model 3's price has been set at about $2,000 less than that of the Bolt. The Bolt is priced at $37,500 while the Model 3 at $35,000. Both electric cars will be eligible for federal tax credits in the U.S., with savings ranging from $7,500 to $13,000 depending on the state.

Range And Recharge

General Motors says the Bolt will have a range of over 200 miles and will include a quick-charge outlet that enables 30 minutes of charging to produce enough reserves to travel up to 90 miles.

The Model 3 is supposed to be about 20 percent lighter than the Model S, which has a range that's north of 200 miles as well. Tesla has established supercharging locations that'll give its vehicles about an 80 percent charge in about 40 minutes.

The Model 3 isn't just a lighter version of the Model S. It's also a stripped down version of the luxury car. It hasn't yet been made clear what features the Model 3 will drop to limbo under the $40,000 price point, but the sensor-reliant Autopilot may be one of them.

While GM hasn't declared that the Bolt will include any self-driving features or the potential to support them, the company has stated that it will aggressively pursue the tech. It also plans to roll it out in the 2017 version of the Volt, its other electric car that has, due to its confusing name, likely shared some of its unfavorable press with the yet-to-be released Bolt.

Still, GM will only test its autopilot answer, "Super Cruise," with employees next year.

So for those who are ready to write the Bolt off for fears that it may not have an answer to Tesla's cool autopilot and remote valet features, neither car will deliver such tech anytime soon.

Bottom Line

It's Chevy that has something to prove here, considering its last electric car had a battery-only range of under 40 miles. That car, the Volt, may also be confusing people who know little about the Bolt.

Tesla, a much smaller company, happens to be coming from a position of strength. The company is the reason people take EVs seriously now days. The company captured the imagination of car enthusiasts with its luxury-level EVs, and then it told the average man and woman they could drive a Tesla without breaking the bank or being enslaved to one.

Before the bottom half of the middle class gets its hands on an affordable Tesla car, it may be too late. The Bolt is bringing everything Tesla has promised in the Model 3. And the Bolt is coming months before the Model 3 gets to make its mark.

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