It's full speed ahead for the little electric car that could: General Motors (NYSE:GM) is set to begin selling its long-range battery-electric Chevrolet Bolt EV nationwide.
Until now, Bolts have only been available at select dealers in a handful of U.S. states, while GM ramped up production, tested the market waters, and trained dealers elsewhere to sell and service the electric Chevy. That will change shortly, a GM official said.
What GM said: The Bolt's nationwide rollout is underway
As first reported by Automotive News, a GM official speaking at a media event in Nashville, Tennessee, last week said that as of June 1, the company has opened up its ordering system for the Bolt to all U.S. dealerships that have been certified by GM to sell electric vehicles. Bolts ordered in June will arrive at dealerships by August.
The GM official, Chevrolet marketing director Steve Majoros, said that dealers who wanted to sell the Bolt had to go through special training and install equipment for electric vehicles, including DC Fast charging stations. GM's rollout plan for the Bolt had called for that process to be completed in July, but it finished ahead of schedule.
Majoros also said that GM will begin a targeted national advertising campaign for the Bolt this summer.
What it means: More people will have a chance to try and buy the Bolt
When the Bolt was first launched in December, vehicles were only available to select dealers in California and Oregon. Sales were subsequently expanded to more states before opening nationwide on June 1.
As you can see, the Bolt's monthly sales total rose in May as the cars became available more widely.
It's reasonable to expect that monthly total to jump again in August or September as Bolts arrive at more dealerships around the country -- in fact, it would be surprising (and not good news for GM) if sales didn't rise by October or so.
How high could Bolt sales rise?
Reports have suggested that the GM factory that builds the Bolt, in Orion, Michigan, was equipped with the expectation that it would build around 30,000 Bolts a year. (That total could probably be pushed quite a bit higher if demand materialized.)
That's a pretty modest sales goal: It works out to an average of 2,500 Bolts sold every month. That's a number that certainly seems achievable from here (especially if we take exports into account).
It's not close to the hundreds of thousands of Model 3s that Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) hopes to pump out every year, of course. But despite the occasional cheeky trash talk, matching Tesla's sales totals was never GM's goal with the Bolt. The Bolt is more about testing the battery-electric waters and serving as a platform for the development of technologies like self-driving -- and about services like car sharing and ride hailing in cities, for which the Bolt's design is optimized.
GM might yet launch a product that's intended to compete head-on with Tesla. But the Bolt isn't it.
What's next for GM and the Bolt?
It's been hard to tell just how high demand is for the Bolt, given the limited distribution and marketing so far. By September or so, we'll have a much better read on how strong a market there is for the little electric Chevy. That in turn might give us a clue as to GM's next move with electric vehicles.