September 20, 2016

Chevrolet has thrown the cat among the pigeons with a seriously competitive $30,000 price tag for the upcoming Chevrolet Bolt, but it’s not really true.

The GM-owned brand always promised it would be less than $37,500 and it is. It’s $5 under that number at $36,995, so you might just get a latte with the cashback. Chevrolet has dressed that up as good news by including the federal tax credits as part of its dubious math to come up with the $30,000 figure.

Here’s the main issue with that: the other manufacturers get the tax breaks too, although that depends on what and when you order. Chevy has a fresh allocation of federal tax credits, whereas Tesla is approaching its limit.

How do the EV federal tax credits work?

Essentially a manufacturer can sell 200,000 vehicles before it hits the skids in terms of government incentives and then the tax breaks taper off aggressively. After Tesla hits the 200,000 sales mark, which obviously cannot include the reservations for the Model 3 that would have already taken it through the threshold, customers get a $3,750 tax incentive for the following six months and $1,875 for the six months after that.

So if you got an early order for the Model 3 then yours will definitely be cheaper than the Bolt. If not, you’re taking a gamble.

But even with these added complications, we either need to quote the retail price, or we do the same math for everybody else. Chevy will inevitably run into a federal tax credit wall at some point if the Bolt is a runaway success, so we can’t give them credit for coming to the party late.

Also, the government incentives are subject to changes in a number of ways. If Tesla is good for the economy and wage a solid PR war then they could easily gain a groundswell of public opinion and lobby for a change in the legislation. After all, penalizing a company in the competitive marketplace for leading the way with zero emissions motoring just isn’t going to look good.

Let’s keep this simple and stick to MSRP

So with the incentives as they are, we’re going to stick with the sticker price. With the Bolt, we still think it’s on the high side compared to the obvious competition.

The Bolt will fare well against the likes of the BMW i3, Ford Focus Electric and Nissan Leaf. It’s a much more complete car than any of them and can command a premium. It can go head-to-head with the Audi e-Tron, too, as it’s a cheaper car with slicker tech.

But by putting in the hard work on the battery and coming up with a 238-mile range, Chevy has created an intriguing rod for its own back. It’s pretty much the only mainstream manufacturer we can pitch into battle with Tesla.

The Model 3 is coming next year, as long as Elon Musk has got his timeline right on this occasion. The Bolt is the only obvious rival and will be until VW and Mercedes can get their respective EV revolutions on the road. The only problem is that when we pitched the Bolt against the Model 3 then we just couldn’t make a case for the Bolt.

The only Ace it has up its sleeve is that it’s going to be here quicker and that really isn’t a long-term value proposition.

Tesla wins on all fronts

The Tesla is going to be prettier, faster, more powerful, more technically advanced and cheaper, too. It will come in at $35,000, before the tax credits, and if it was $2000 more expensive than the Bolt it would still be difficult to justify the Chevy hatchback. As the pricing works against it, too, we’re struggling to get behind the Bolt, as much as we’d love to.

It will find an audience. Some folks just don’t like the Tesla image and inverted snobbery will take them away from the Apple-style marketing and presentation to a traditional meat and potatoes car manufacturer. Others will prefer to do business with an established manufacturer, albeit one that went bankrupt less than 10 years ago, due to concerns over Tesla’s longevity.

So the Bolt will find buyers, we’re sure of that. We’re just not sure it looks like good value for money next to the Tesla Model 3, no matter how Chevy tries to dress up the numbers.

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