Bolt EV Rollout: Rough start or smooth sailing?

Discussion in 'Bolt EV' started by Pushmi-Pullyu, Nov 4, 2017.

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  1. Pushmi-Pullyu

    Pushmi-Pullyu Well-Known Member

    Several sections of Jay Cole's comments about the Bolt EV over the months in various editions of InsideEVs' "Plug-In Electric Vehicle Sales Report Card" articles have lead me to believe that GM was experiencing unusual problems with the rollout. However, I've gotten pushback to comments I've posted about situation start; comments I've posted to InsideEVs' articles. Jay Cole even responded to one of my comments, disagreeing when I said something like GM had "dropped the ball" (that's a paraphrase; can't recall my exact words) on the rollout.

    So what's going on? Am I too close to the problem, not seeing the forest for the trees? Are the various problems reported over several "Sales Report Card" articles, usual for the rollout of any new car model? Or do they show a pattern indicating that GM mishandled the rollout, either due to incompetence or -- and I think this more likely -- indicating that they really don't care if the car sells or not?

    I quote the relevant sections from the "Plug-In Electric Vehicle Sales Report Card below, with links to the sources.

    Please note these quotes are cherry-picked to show where problems were reported. Neutral and positive comments about the Bolt EV rollout have been omitted. The following summary is one-sided and decidedly not balanced; you have been warned. Links are provided to the original articles for those who want to read the excerpted sections in their full context.

    * * * * *

    From February 2017:

    Unfortunately, and despite added 3 more states of availability in February (Massachusetts, Maryland and Virginia joined California and Oregon), Bolt EV sales fell to 952 moved during the month.

    And the sales slump didn’t have anything to do with inventory, as it steadily grew over the course of the month, ending several hundred units higher than the month prior and rapidly closing in on the 2,000 unit mark.

    From March 2017:

    GM noted that inventory was fairly tight on dealer lots in March, with only around 14 days worth on hand. Still, with Bolt EV production having started last October and only ~3,600 sales since then, there was an issue someplace – either at the plant, or with GM management’s production allocation (perhaps production heading to Europe under the Opel Ampera-E badge).

    From April 2017:

    ...we did note last month that with the Bolt EV’s “production having started last October and only ~3,600 sales since then, there was an issue someplace” – and that materialized in April. Despite inventories quadrupling, sales increased…but to just 1,292 units.​

    From May 2017:

    Thing improved moreso in May (thanks to a roll-out of the EV into the US Northeast, and deep inventories for the entire month – over 5,000 cars by month’s end), as GM noted a all-time high of 1,566 sales during the month, a gain of 21% from the month prior.

    From June 2017:

    Originally, we had [strikeout] been told [/strikeout*] thought tight inventory was holding back sales, but by late April inventory moved deep into 4 digits, and headed toward 5,000 units in May – the result was 1,566 sales.

    For June, inventory of the Bolt EV touched close to the 6,000 unit level, and again, Bolt EV sales moved higher – up to 1,642 copies, a new 2017 high.

    With the Bolt EV clearly underselling even GM’s own expectations, the company now finds itself with way too much 2017 model year stock.
    [* The "strikeout" text formatting was used over these words in the article, to indicate a snarky editorial comment, but sadly that formatting can't be displayed on this Forum.]

    From July 2017:

    Coming off June’s highest sales level (with 1,642 copies sold), GM promptly extended the Summer shutdown at the car’s Orion, Michigan plant….and then posted the 2017 sales high in July, with 1,981 sales in limited release!

    And although, there was north of 7,000 copies at dealers or in transit (good for 110+ days worth of stock), GM noted the shutdown was Sonic petrol car related (as sales of the subcompact have cratered over the past couple years).

    The story of Bolt EV inventory was so prevalent, GM even broke cover and made a statement, pointing out that:

    “There are only 7,000 Bolt EVs in dealer stock or in transit. Divide that by the number of Bolt/certified dealers and we have roughly 6 per store. That is hardly overstocked.”

    From August 2017:

    ...note, the 238 mile EV has seen increasing sales month-over-month for the past 6 months.

    Thanks to stronger sales, and an extended shutdown this Summer of the Bolt EV’s production facility in Orion, Michigan (mostly due to plummeting Sonic sales), inventory of the Bolt has leveled off at around 5,000 units, a more manageable number for GM.
    * * * * *

    Since, as I noted, those are cherry-picked quotes, it's only fair that I provide some balance by quoting much more positive comments from "Sales Report Card" articles before and after the period in question:

    From January 2017:

    GM’s first long range offering completed its first full month on the US market in January, selling an impressive 1,162 copies in California and Oregon (the two states selected for the Bolt EV’s launch before going nationwide later this year).

    Previously, 579 Bolt EVs found homes in December after the car’s debut mid-month.

    GM even managed to grow inventory regionally, briefly touching 4 figures during the month, but averaging around ~700 units overall in January. It appears GM has judged the demand (and thus production) for the Bolt EV just about perfectly.

    From September 2017:

    ...after selling 2,107 copies in August, the all-electric Chevy set the bar even higher in September, selling a record 2,632 cars in September!

    September’s result put the Bolt EV within striking distance (1,046 units) of its stablemate Chevy Volt on the 2017 sales leaderboard – a result which now seems inevitable.

    Also to note, the 238 mile EV has seen increasing sales month-over-month for the past 7 months.

    Thanks to stronger sales, and an extended shutdown this Summer of the Bolt EV’s production facility in Orion, Michigan (mostly due to plummeting Sonic sales), inventory of the Bolt has leveled off/decreased somewhat at 5,000 units in August and actually dropped by a few hundred units in September, which is a little odd as the 238 mile EV is expected to be a hot seller into the 2017 year-end.

    With national distribution widening more evenly over the next few months (and the end of the 2017 tax season – for claiming the $7,500 EV fed credit), we expect to ultimately see the Bolt EV hit the ~3,000 level before the year’s end.​

    * * * * *

    So what say you, EV fans? I also note a large number of anecdotal reports from would-be Bolt EV buyers who reported their local dealers tell them they had none of the cars in stock despite online inventory saying they do. Hopefully that situation has eased recently, along with reports of increasing inventory.

    Are these reports, from Jay Cole and others, an indication that rollout of the Bolt EV has been a troubled one, a haphazard rollout with poorly handled inventory and delayed shipments, with the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing?

    Or is this really smooth sailing, with very minor problems being blown out of proportion because we're examining the rollout with a microscope?

    Or is the Truth somewhere in between?

    I'd be interested to see what others have to say about the situation; I'd be especially interested in hearing from those who have bought a Bolt EV, and those who tried to get one but ultimately gave up.
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  3. Spider-Dan

    Spider-Dan New Member

    The problem is that you are conflating lower than expected sales with problems executing the rollout of a new product. The execution of the Bolt's happened almost exactly as GM scheduled it; you can disagree with their strategy decisions, but that isn't a "rollout problem." As far as sales go, "low inventory" is not "no inventory," and no one has claimed that Bolt sales were restrained to any meaningful degree by lack of inventory.
  4. Pushmi-Pullyu

    Pushmi-Pullyu Well-Known Member

    Not if problems with the rollout were one major contributing factor to low sales, which I believe was the case until GM straightened out the mess. Also, it does not appear to me that GM was trying very hard to sort out the mess, because it took them several months to do so.

    Clearly not true. Please see the OP, where I quoted "Originally, we had [strikeout] been told [/strikeout*] thought tight inventory was holding back sales"
    Last edited: Nov 5, 2017
  5. WadeTyhon

    WadeTyhon Well-Known Member

    I think you are both correct to a certain extent. Bolt inventories didn't fill out in California until about March. That isn't as quick as many expected, but is hardly a disaster either.

    Part of these inventory delays were due to weather. This is an unfortunate reality when your vehicle is produced near Detroit and launched only in California and Oregon in mid-December! Lots of Bolts were sitting around waiting to be shipped from what I read from Bolt EV buyers during the launch period. And Bro had a blog post discussing the incredibly long delays of his Bolt during shipping.

    The other thing is that there were no opportunities to build inventory initially. Many Bolts were actually reserved ahead of time, including by people from out of state.

    Inventories did fill in by spring. Yet for the next few weeks, sales remained pretty muted. This is where I think most of the disappointment was coming from Jay. Traditionally, 50% of all EV sales have been in California alone. So if the Bolt, with large inventories, was selling at 1,000 a month or less in California and Oregon, then that would mean the Bolt was likely destined to sell 2,000 units a month or less.

    I have to wonder of the ridiculously low compliance car pricing for other EVs initially hurt the Bolt sales. Californians are spoiled by insanely low lease rates and huge discounts. During this same time period in California, Volt sales skyrocketed in a way I don't think anyone expected. Pretty good incentives were available on the Volt and other EVs but none were being offered on the Bolt. (They are being offered nationwide on the Bolt now. I have received $3,000 private offers for the Volt, Bolt and most GM vehicles (excluding Sonics, Sparks, and other low volume low margin cars).

    It also seems that the Bolt is actually selling at a much higher rate outside of California than other EVs have in the past. GM rolled out the Bolt 2 months earlier than planned in many states including mine. Since going nationwide, only about 1/4 of Bolt EV inventories have been in California. Yet Bolt sales keep rising every month. This is an excellent sign to me for the future of electrics!

    So overall, while the initial launch was far from perfect, it has turned out that the Bolt is actually has had the best selling launch of an EV ever in both the US and Canada. Not too shabby!
  6. Domenick

    Domenick Administrator Staff Member

    I think overall, they handled it decently. Sales should hit right about their 30,000 unit target. If sales had of continued slow~ish, as they were earlier in the year, they could have probably caught up to numbers with increased advertising. From what I can tell, they aren't really trying to get more sales than what they had planned for. I don't watch much TV, but I haven't noticed much in the way of Facebook or Twitter ads. They certainly haven't made a bunch of commercials for it, and the ones they have aren't especially special.

    TLDR; They're pretty much on course.
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  8. Pushmi-Pullyu

    Pushmi-Pullyu Well-Known Member


    You made some excellent points and, more importantly, you've given me the perspective on the entire situation that I was missing. The large number of advance reservations would indeed appear to explain part or most of the apparent discrepancy between listed inventory and what was actually available for would-be buyers. Your point about winter weather delaying shipments is also something I had not considered.

    Thank you, Sir!

    Yeah, I still don't get that. Sure, Volts were getting incentives, but weren't they getting them before? I wonder if Chevy salesmen were diverting would-be Bolt EV buyers to the Volt. "Sorry we don't have the Bolt EV in stock, but we have the wonderful Volt, which also is an EV, and I can put you into one today!"
  9. Pushmi-Pullyu

    Pushmi-Pullyu Well-Known Member

    I don't think GM/Chevy has done any TV ads at all for the Bolt EV. In fact, I saw a report that the Bolt EV was missing from a group shot of Chevy cars and trucks in one TV ad!

    On the one hand, I don't blame GM for not advertising the Bolt EV. They did advertise the Volt when it was new; even a couple of Superbowl ads, which are the most expensive ads of all. Yet Volt sales remained far below GM's expectations. So I can see why GM is far more cautious about spending money on the Bolt EV, and I think they farmed out development of the entire Bolt EV powertrain to LG Chem & LG Electronics to save on R&D costs.

    On the other hand, as an EV advocate I'm quite unhappy with the way GM is not promoting the car at all, and has made choices to limit the market for the car... such as stating there will be no right-hand-drive version. Just because I understand GM making choices which limit the market for the car, doesn't mean I like it!
  10. Domenick

    Domenick Administrator Staff Member

    I can't help but wonder if they're afraid to put too much money into the program for fear of overestimating demand once the Model 3 becomes more available. If that car turns out to be the hit its pre-orders make it out to be, it could suppress Bolt sales regardless of what they throw at it, short of a reliable high-speed national charging network.
  11. Spider-Dan

    Spider-Dan New Member

    If you finish the rest of the paragraph you are citing from, you will see that the IEV editors conceded that their original hypothesis - that sales were being held back by inventory - was wrong. When someone starts a sentence with "Originally, we had thought...", they are preparing to contradict that original thought.
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  13. Pushmi-Pullyu

    Pushmi-Pullyu Well-Known Member

    @ Spider-Dan:

    You're making a straw man argument. Here's your assertion which I cited and refuted:

    If InsideEVs reporters were told that Bolt EV sales were restrained by lack of inventory, then quite clearly someone made that claim. QED.
  14. Spider-Dan

    Spider-Dan New Member

    That point would have been valid right until the article that you are citing from was posted. In that article, IEV staff issues two corrections:

    1) they were NOT "told" that Bolt sales were restrained by inventory; they came to that conclusion themselves (that's what the strikeout tag indicates)
    2) that conclusion was NOT accurate

    But if you prefer, I can amend my statement to "no one has claimed that Bolt sales were restrained to any meaningful degree by lack of inventory without later retracting that claim as false."
  15. Pushmi-Pullyu

    Pushmi-Pullyu Well-Known Member

    Well, let's ask Jay Cole to clarify.

    A strikethrough markup can indicate one of two things:

    1. When parts of something published or posted are later found to be incorrect, strikeout can be used to indicate that section of the article or post should be disregarded.

    2. Strikethrough can be used in a snarky fashion to indicate what the writer was actually thinking, or what he really wanted to say, even though it wasn't polite; this is actually an ironic form of emphasis. Jay Cole has an occasional habit of using strikethrough in this manner. This use dates to when typewriters were used to compose mimeographed publications, in the subculture of literary science fiction fandom fanzines (fan magazines). where some words were overlaid with slashes (/////) in an identical snarky fashion. This use may also have appeared outside science fiction fanzines, but if so, I'm not aware of it.

    An example from the New York Times:

    But in Internet culture, the strike-through has already taken on an ironic function, as a ham-fisted way of having it both ways in type a witty way of simultaneously commenting on your prose as you create it.​

    I don't think you can make a case for #1, Spider-Dan. That markup was present in the article as published; it's not a later correction. It appears Jay was being snarky again.
  16. Spider-Dan

    Spider-Dan New Member

    You appear to be claiming that IEV was, in fact, "told" that low Bolt sales were due to insufficient inventory, but:

    1) there is no source cited for who "told" that to IEV, making the snark interpretation rather tortured, and
    2) we already know any such claim was false, as per the same article you are citing

    What is your point, exactly? That the Bolt rollout had problems due to inventory shortages, or that at some point, someone incorrectly claimed that it did? Even if we take the latter for granted - and we should not - you have provided zero evidence that the inventory levels were not exactly what GM intended. If the inventory was as intended, then there was no inventory "problem", regardless of how much you may disagree with GM's rollout strategy.

    That is not remotely similar to Tesla being unable to produce units to meet their intended production targets.
  17. Pushmi-Pullyu

    Pushmi-Pullyu Well-Known Member

    Most definitely not, and asserting this shows a very strong bias. We've come to the point that you are rejecting evidence simply because it doesn't fit your preconceptions, Spider-Dan.

    "It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts." -- Sherlock Holmes, "A Scandal in Bohemia" by Arthur Conan Doyle
  18. rgmichel

    rgmichel Active Member

    I am not unhappy at all - I have one - and what a delight it is too. Did it occur to anyone that the car is so good that GM might just be sitting back and enjoying it? They hardly need to run ads.
  19. Domenick

    Domenick Administrator Staff Member

    Nope. I mean, I'm sure they are very happy they are hitting their sales targets, so they don't necessarily need to run ads to create demand for a product they can't supply in great enough numbers yet. I don't think they are really sitting back.

    More likely, they are trying to make sure they can manage their supply chain to accommodate organic growth demands of the Bolt and the new-Bolt-based vehicles coming in the next couple years.
  20. HVACman

    HVACman New Member

    I think another initial constraint with Bolt production was that it was folded in with Sonic production on the same line. Sonic sales tanked last year, which really impacted inventory. Initially, from what I understand, the assembly line was designed to handle 1 Bolt for every 3 Sonics (9 Bolts/hour). But if they reduced Sonic production, it affected Bolts too. I believe last summer the Orion plant had a temporary shut down to sell off the excess Sonic inventory and also to re-tool the assembly line to increase the Bolt/Sonic ratio to 1:1, I think, which doubled capacity. I wouldn't be surprised in 2018 if the line is adapted again to produce mostly Bolts.
  21. Viking79

    Viking79 Well-Known Member

    I think the line will be retooled to not increase Bolt EV production, but rather production of the CUV based on the Bolt EV Platform. I think the Bolt EV will fade away, or have a serious modification to the price point to make it more competitive. I think it was a short term car to fill a gap and lay the groundwork for profitable EVs. They can write the Bolt EV off as a loss to get to where they wanted to go. This is all speculation of course, I would be happy to see the Bolt EV continue, but I think price point on a CUV based on it might have to be about the same as the Bolt EV, so it doesn't leave room for both (at least at the current price point).
  22. Pushmi-Pullyu

    Pushmi-Pullyu Well-Known Member

    Well of course that's going to happen sooner or later, but you seem to be suggesting it will happen sooner, before the car has enough years of production to fully justify the development costs.

    So how many more years do you think the Bolt EV will be in production? Just one more year?

    Personally I think it will be produced longer than that, and for enough years to more than justify the development costs. Of course that's just a guess.
  23. Domenick

    Domenick Administrator Staff Member

    Yeah, the Bolt will be around for at least four years. It'd have to be a real let down sales-wise to be a shorter run than that, and so far, it seems to be doing fine. Looking for to the crossover built on that platform, but we'll see a design for it (hopefully in Detroit next week) a number of months before it goes into production.

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