It feels like GM tradition to kill a car as soon as it gets good. The Pontiac Fiero was axed after it gained new suspension for 1988, the Pontiac GTO was offed a couples years after gaining six-liter V8 power. The Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid died just before plug-in hybrids truly went mainstream. Well, tradition is just peer pressure from dead people, and GM now seems determined to break the habit. It turns out that the Chevrolet Bolt EV isn’t actually dead, it’s just in the waiting room for the time being.
Welcome back to The Morning Dump, our daily series of bite-size news tidbits too short for full stories yet important enough that we need to discuss them. Today, the Chevrolet Bolt is coming back, Electrify America charging prices are going up, RVs are in the dumps, and Tesla might be headed to India. There’s so much coming and going in this one, it feels like an airport.
It’s Comeback Season For The Chevrolet Bolt
Earlier this year, it felt like the affordable Chevrolet Bolt EV — GM’s first high-volume fully electric car — was thoroughly dead. Chevrolet announced a production wind-down, discontinuing the Bolt after the 2023 model year and bringing an end to an unlikely late-life success story in the affordable EV market. But wait, the Chevrolet Bolt EV is re-entering the ring with a metal chair! [Editor’s Note: This is a wrestling reference. This took me a while. -DT]. Thanks to an official GM email to owners forwarded by reader Brett, we’ve learned that Chevrolet’s inexpensive, popular EV will return in some form. After all, the email couldn’t be any clearer — It opens with the phrase “Bolt is back.” Let’s take a look at what the body copy says.
Well, that’s certainly unexpected, and a welcome change from GM’s history of killing something just as it got good. Of equal importance, with the Equinox EV expected to sit around the $30,000 mark based on prior GM announcements, the next Bolt could be less expensive than that to avoid cannibalizing sales. As of right now, we have no idea what form the next Bolt will take, but we wouldn’t be surprised if it’s a small hatchback or crossover. In any case, we’ll just have to wait and see what GM has planned for its next-generation entry-level EV, but its existence at all feels like it could be a victory for consumers.
GM Reportedly Blames Slow Ultium Battery Roll-Out On Suppliers
Another day, another story about supplier mayhem. It feels par for the course in the topsy-turvy year of 2023, doesn’t it? This time, it’s automation for GM’s vaunted Ultium battery packs, as Reuters reports GM CEO Mary Barra claimed ramp-up delays during a recent investor call.
Barra said battery production at the Ultium joint venture plant in Lordstown, Ohio, has been hampered because “our automation equipment supplier is struggling with delivery issues.” The situation should be resolved by year-end, Barra said. GM in the meantime is building battery modules by hand on manual assembly lines, she said.
No wonder Hummer EV production is at a crawl. Imagine screwing together those massive packs by hand. In any case, the year-end resolution target set by GM is critical, for EV plans without battery packs is the new-school equivalent of wanting to build cars but not having any engines. GM has bet the farm on Ultium-powered vehicles of all sorts, from the reasonably-priced Chevrolet Equinox EV crossover to the ultra-lux Cadillac Celestiq plutocratmobile, so getting this right will be mission-critical.
The RVcession Is Here
It’s an expensive time to be alive, and that’s hitting some makers and sellers of pricey machines square in the wallets. Just like how EVs are loitering on dealership lots, Reuters reports that the RV industry is dealing with a post-pandemic slump.
Retail sales of recreational vehicles are on track to be the lowest since 2015, said Ferrando, CEO and president of Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based Blue Compass RV, which operates in 33 U.S. states. There’s “definitely a recession in RVs,” he said.
Recreational vehicle sales boomed during the first few years of the pandemic, as consumers essentially found themselves all dressed up with nowhere to go. Disruptions to normalcy like work-from-home and restaurant closures reduced general consumer spending, while international border restrictions and questions around how sickness spreads on airplanes turned off the taps for international wanderlust. Flush with cash and wanting a different view, consumers leapt into the RV pool, hitting the road to see America. It was a boom, and like all booms, it’s turned into a bust.
But trouble emerged soon after pandemic restrictions were eased and U.S. interest rates began to rise. The Federal Reserve has hiked borrowing costs 10 times since last March as part of an aggressive campaign to tame high inflation. The U.S. central bank’s benchmark overnight interest rate has climbed by 5 percentage points to the 5.00%-5.25% range, the highest level in about a decade-and-a-half.
The interest rate consumers pay on loans is well above even that, and RV loans recently have averaged around 10% versus 7% or so before the Fed’s monetary tightening kicked into high gear, Ferrando said. With 80% of his company’s customers financing their purchases, it was natural that rapid rate hikes would curb buyers’ appetites.
The explanation behind the slump makes sense. Rising costs of living and high interest rates have left consumers with little money and less affordable borrowing, and when times get tough, big-ticket items are the first to go. However, as it stands, Reuters is reporting sales of RVs, ATVs, and other playthings are still well above pre-pandemic levels, so perhaps this rapid downward plunge is more of a minor slump than a recession indicator.
Electrify America EV Charging Is About To Get More Expensive
Well, yes, if you can charge at home or at work. However, if you say, live in an old apartment, work from home, and can’t convince your superintendent to install charging hardware in your building, you’re at the mercy of public charging networks. Electrify America is one of this industry’s juggernauts, and InsideEVs reports that major pricing changes are coming that could make charging at EA stations noticeably more expensive. What changes are we talking about? Why, I’m glad you asked.
The monthly fee to be a Pass+ subscriber is going up from $4.00 to $7.00. That translates to an additional $36 per year ($84 per year compared to the previous $48/year), Pass+ members will still get a 25% discount on the per-kWh or per-minute price, depending on what state they are charging in.
Electrify America is transitioning from set pricing across the country to a station-specific pricing model that is subject to change. The Electrify America app will show the station-specific prices, the company is urging its members to always check the station for pricing when they arrive because it’s possible the price listed in the app may be incorrect.
Electrify America will begin to charge idle fees at most of its locations nationwide. After a ten-minute grace period, the customer will be billed $0.40 per minute until they unplug the vehicle from the charger.
Although charging idle fees is a great stick to deter charger hogs, the rest of these changes seem unlikely to benefit consumers. Don’t get me wrong, $84 a year to save 25 percent on DC fast charging may still be worth it if you do a ton of road trips in your EV, but a 75 percent increase in membership fees is outrageous. It’s a similar deal with Tesla-style dynamic pricing — some stations will still be good deals, but some probably won’t. An expensive product can still have a market if it’s brilliant, seamless, and reliable to use, but this is Electrify America we’re talking about here.
Tesla Goes To India For Cheap EVs?
The electric transition is going to require a ton of manufacturing resources, and Tesla certainly set the standard for EV assembly plant scale. After plunking down plants from Texas to China, Reuters reports that Tesla is now looking to get in on an emerging economic powerhouse by building electric vehicles in India.
Tesla has expressed an interest in building a factory in India that would produce low-cost electric vehicles (EVs) for the local market and for export, the person said, adding that the company had indicated that it would be for the new vehicle.
The discussions represent a sharp reversal for the company after efforts last year to reduce import taxes on EVs shipped to India were scuppered by calls from government officials to commit to making cars locally.
More important than a possible Indian production plant is what might be built there. From the sound of it, this isn’t just shaping up to be a place to crank out more Model Y crossovers, but a facility for a new EV altogether.
The 2 million rupee ($24,000) EV Tesla representatives were said to have described in discussions about a potential Indian plant would be 25% cheaper than its current lowest priced offering, the Model 3 sedan which sells for the equivalent of just over $32,200 in China.
The concept of a $24,000 EV isn’t shocking. From dirt-cheap Chinese EVs to the reasonably-priced 2023 Chevrolet Bolt, it’s been proven possible to make an electric vehicle sold in the mid-20s to the masses. Since price is the largest driving factor in vehicle purchases, cheap EVs are necessary to get the world electrified. Thanks to inflation and wage compression, new vehicles are falling further and further out of reach of the average American, and an inexpensive high-volume option is what the market demands. However, with promised Tesla products often missing production timing targets (Cybertruck) or coming in above claimed prices (Model 3), I’ll believe this one when I see it.
With the news of an eventual Chevrolet Bolt return and chatter about an inexpensive Tesla, I’d love to know how far out you predict $25,000 new EVs to be in America? Are we talking 2030, 2027, or perhaps sometime sooner than you’d ever imagine? More importantly, if another manufacturer with a Supercharging agreement comes out with a cheap new EV, will Tesla’s rumored baby model even be worth it? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
(Photo credits: Chevrolet, Winnebago, Electrify America, Tesla)
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