After criticism arose this month suggesting that General Motors' (NYSE:GM) $37,500 fully electric Bolt could represent more of a compliance car than a bold bet, GM's manager of electrification, Kevin Kelly, came to the company's defense (via Hybrid Cars).
The Bolt is "not a compliance car," he said. He emphasized that GM is ready to ramp up production as needed.
Production won't be a problem
Backing up Kelly's stance on the Bolt, he asserted the company would be able to meet demand for the vehicle even if 50,000 shoppers wanted a Bolt in 2017 (the vehicle's first full year of production).
While 50,000 shipments in 2017 would far exceed the 25,000 to 30,000 target the company reportedly had for annual production according to a report from Reuters last year, it's unlikely that GM is actually targeting 50,000 units for first-year sales.
GM North American executive vice president Alan Batey has "played down expectations for large sales volumes with the Bolt," according to The Wall Street Journal's Guatham Nagesh. "He said GM sees the car as a way to reintroduce the brand to consumers that haven't interacted with it in some time."
It's very possible that 25,000 to 30,000 units may very well be the company's actual target for its first year of full production of the Bolt. Sure, this is a small figure compared to Tesla's 50,000 annual Model S shipments globally or to its estimated 26,000 U.S. shipments. After all, the Model S sports an average selling price that will probably triple the average selling price of the Bolt. But 25,000 to 30,000 units would represent a big step from the company's approximately 15,400 shipments of its plug-in Volt during 2015.
GM has refrained from giving a specific sales target for the Bolt yet, only noting that it will "meet the customer demand for the vehicle."
Will demand fall short?
Estimating the potential for GM's Bolt is somewhat of a wildcard.
As the first fully electric vehicle with enough range to fulfill most roles of a gas car for an owner, it's the first of its kind at a mass-market price. It's tempting, therefore, to jump to the conclusion that the vehicle should outsell its more expensive counterparts, namely Tesla's Model S.
On the other hand, Tesla's approach to electric vehicles is so different from GM's it quickly renders a direct comparison useless, even if a comparison may look good on paper.
Tesla's aim is to build no-compromise electric cars that have more appeal than their comparably priced gas counterparts. This is how the company approached the Model S and the X. It's also why the S outsells all comparably priced luxury sedans in the U.S. And Tesla doesn't appear willing to usher in exceptions to its no-compromise design approach with the Model 3 -- the vehicle that ultimately represents the summation of all of the company's efforts to date and the vehicle that intimately resonates with the carmaker's mission to bring sustainable transport to the masses. Tesla has already hinted it won't be making compromises with its affordable car by likening the Model 3 to BMW's (NASDAQOTH:BMWYY) 3 Series sedan.
Meanwhile, GM's Bolt fails to compare to the performance and styling of comparably priced sedans, leaving the Bolt as a high-end compact car offering.
Making it even more difficult to estimate sales of the Bolt, if Tesla really can build a compelling $35,000 Model 3 that squarely competes with BMW's 3 Series, then GM may need to go back to the drawing board and figure out a way to build an electric car that can stand up to similarly priced cars.
For now, estimating GM can sell any more than 30,000 Bolts per year would only be speculation, as it would assume buyers are ready to make compromises to go electric. As is the case with speculation, this outcome is certainly possible. So far, though, there isn't yet any data on whether fully electric cars are compelling enough for buyers to sacrifice performance and style just to get a long-range, battery-powered car.