2019 Chevy Bolt Improvements
Steve Birkett's picture

3 Reasons the Chevy Bolt EV is Already Outdated (and What GM Can Do to Fix It)

Ah, General Motors... love them or loathe them, EV enthusiasts and Bolt owners must admit that with the Chevy Bolt, GM was able to make a great electric car.
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GM unveiled the award-winning Chevrolet Bolt EV at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) back in 2016, starting production later that year and beating even Tesla to market with an affordable long-range EV.

Since then, the Bolt EV has sold in steady volumes and built up a cult following among early adopters (and those who simply couldn’t hold on for the Tesla Model 3.)

However, the EV market moves quickly and is unforgiving. As a result, the Bolt EV is already outdated in 2019 and ready for the same kind of mid-cycle refresh that revitalized the Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid back in 2015.

On the subject of PHEV vs. BEV, here's why even in retirement, the Chevy Volt still impacts sales of the 2019 Bolt EV.

Here are 3 areas that make the Bolt EV feel outdated compared to the competition:

1. Slow DC Fast Charging Speed.
2. Limited OTA Software Updates.
3. Low Tech Interior.

Let’s examine each of these more closely and see what GM can do to bring its first pure-electric car back to the future.

1. Quicker DC Fast Charging

When the Bolt EV was released, the North American charging infrastructure was limited, to say the least. DC fast charging units were typically rated 50kW at best and limited to coastal routes or major metropolitan areas. With the ability to hit 55kW on a capable charge unit, the Bolt EV’s maximum charge rate seemed rather spritely.
Fast forward three years and all that has changed.

Established charging networks like EVgo and ChargePoint are rolling out equipment rated for 150kW charging and above. At the same time, the Electrify America network, funded by VW as its penance for Dieselgate, is future-proofed to the tune of 350kW charging and installing sites coast-to-coast. Competing electric vehicles like the Tesla Model 3 will soon charge at up to 200kW and even direct compact hatchback competitors, such as the Hyundai Kona Electric or Kia Niro EV, will outperform the Bolt at around 75kW charging.

Attention electric car owners: here is an update on choices for EV public charging options.

Based on the latest EV sales figures, the Bolt has some catching up to do. (Please subscribe to Torque News Youtube Channel for daily automotive news and analysis).

To catch up, GM must do two things:

First: increase the Bolt’s maximum charge speed to reach closer to 100kW.

Second: move the current taper point at 55% closer to 80%. The latter, which refers to the state-of-charge at which the car tells the station to reduce power for battery conservation, is arguably as important as the former.

Both steps would reduce the overall time that Bolt EV drivers spend charging and make longer road trips more achievable for prospective owners.

On the subject of range, the much-anticipated 400-mile Rivian R1T delivers on that score, but here's Why the R1T is Not the Truck to Convert Everyday Pickup Drivers to Electric Vehicles.

2. Accept That Over-The-Air (OTA) Updates Are the Future.

If any non-Tesla EV owner tells you they are not jealous of OTA software updates, that person is either lying or doesn’t know what they are. One of the joys of owning a Tesla is that you can go to sleep and wake up to find your car has been upgraded overnight, without visiting a dealership or paying a dime.

In early 2019, for example, Model 3 LR owners were excited to learn that Tesla’s latest software update had increased their range from 310 to 325 miles per charge. All through the magic of regular OTA updates. By the way, OTA software updates are one of the top 10 reasons why Tesla Model 3 will be remembered like iPhone.

The reality for Bolt EV owners is not nearly as exciting.

Although the car can receive updates in this way, software enhancements from GM have been few and far between. Getting a slightly larger screen for Android Auto one year ago just isn’t in the same league as what Tesla, a company forged in the UX-obsessed fires of Silicon Valley, can provide.

In fairness, this isn’t a challenge facing General Motors alone. Every legacy car manufacturer typically keeps its latest software for the next model year. It's simply not the norm for a car that has already been sold to see a software upgrade. GM could be the first of them to break this tired old mold and every Bolt EV produced, present or future, would be the better for it.

3. Enhance the Interior.

Some elements of the Bolt EV’s interior could be described as tech-forward, such as the relatively large touchscreen or the multiple camera angles for parking assistance, but there are many modern car conveniences that it lacks. Also see this Chevy Bolt vs 2018 Nissan Leaf comparison where Bolt's interior is discussed as well.

Let’s start with the Bolt's seats.

No, not the divisive issue of their body-hugging (dis)comfort, which some owners lament and others kind of love. In this case, we’re looking at the manual controls to adjust the front seats which, in the age of electronic everything and even preset driver profiles for Tesla owners, feels decidedly last decade.

Seats are "one of the primary complaints some Bolt owners have.".

From there, work your way around the cabin and there are things that make the Bolt EV feel ready for a refresh. The mixture of physical buttons and touch screen controls is a little off, for example, with dead space in some places and cluttered digital controls in others. Then we have the hard plastics, which although they’re to be expected in an affordable compact car, should never deliver the blinding glare of the lighter color interior options.

Although these might seem like minor quibbles for some, electric vehicles are supposed to feel like the future and the Bolt EV has enough dated interior design elements to detract from that excitement.

GM’s remit here is simple enough: listen to feedback from owners of the Bolt’s first three model years. We’re a dedicated bunch who can help the company address 90% of what needs improvement in the car’s cabin. It doesn’t need to reach Model 3 levels of minimalism, just a few tweaks that will create a more compelling interior.

The Bolt EV is an excellent electric car that still holds its own in the absurdly dynamic marketplace that it helped to develop three years ago. With improvements in these three key areas and some other minor enhancements, GM can ensure that the 2020 Bolt EV no longer feels outdated and will continue to hold its own as more competitors enter the market.

Watch my Chevy Bolt Reaching a 300 Miles Per Single Charge and Subscribe to Torque News Youtube Channel for more News on EV and Auto Industry.

If you drive a Bolt EV, what aspects of the car would you like to see improved next year?

If you thought about buying but opted not to, what put you off? Let us know in the comments. See you in the next story where I am going to discuss how Toyota is getting an EV Pass with the 2019 Prius Prime sales.

Steve Birkett is an electric vehicle advocate at Plug & Play EV. You can follow him on Twitter at @Plugandplayev, Instagram and Youtube at Plugandplayev Channel to send him EV news tips.


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Comments

Yep yep and yep. I’m not buying a Chevy Bolt at least the way it is now.
Charger speed and driver assist features should be priority. Adaptive cruise and lane tracking at minimum now that others are promising automation and self drive cars.
Love my 2017 Chevy Volt, charging away from home never even occurs to me, I’ve got my own generator on board, don’t even have to stop. The rap about GM’s interiors is spot on, the seat in my Volt G2 is it’s the most disappointing feature. That and not having an adjustable shoulder belt anchor, how cheesy! Then again, recent Corvette and Silverado interiors have been pretty hideous too, interiors just don’t seem to register with GM as anything they really care about.
We occasionally hop in my family's Gen. 1 Volt and the seats actually feel pretty good... too low and limited visibility for my liking though. I don't need luxury, but the manual adjustments do remind me of getting economy rental cars. A few polishes or flourishes here and there would make a big difference.
#1. DC charging speeds. Relative to what? It's competitors? Not really. Even when faster public charging is available, the Hyundai Kona Electric and Kia Niro EV are only ~10 minutes faster to 80%. #2. OTA Updates. The Bolt EV is already capable. But don't mistake the lack of a need for updates with the lack of capability to receive those updates. #3 Low tech interior. Again, compared to what? The interiors on most of its competitors look analog by comparison. Even the Model 3 looks like someone took cheap veneer and a large iPad and glued them both to the dash. There are a number of improvements I'd like to see made to the Bolt EV, and DC charging speed is the only one that makes the list. But that has more to do with the upcoming availability of faster public charging than it does with any Bolt EV competitors might be up to.
Most of this was covered in the article, but I'm happy to restate for clarity: 1. Compared primarily to the Kona and Niro, yes, which are the current (non-Tesla) standard. If they can reach higher charge speeds and offer more range from that faster charge, that's an aspect that current buyers are going to focus on. 10 minutes might not seem like much over one stop, but on a longer road trip and 3-5 charging stops, it quickly adds up. 2. From the article: "The reality for Bolt EV owners is not nearly as exciting. Although the car can receive updates in this way, software enhancements from GM have been few and far between." 3. Take your pick: Leaf, i3, even the Kona and Niro offer power seats with ventilation (don't get the latter myself, but perhaps some folks like to cool their derriere). I don't think GM has loads to do here, but for me some of the cheap rental car elements need to be upgraded. And again, from the article: "Some elements of the Bolt EV’s interior could be described as tech-forward..." I think the UI is generally well done and I love the advanced display on the dash more than any of the competitors I've seen. I later referred to the Model 3 as overly minimalist precisely because I miss our Bolt's driver dash info whenever I drive the Tesla. The jarring feel of manual seat adjustment (and other aspects where I understand Chevy had to cheap out on the interior) just conflicts with the things I love about the cabin, hence wanting to see some small improvements.
The max charge speed isn’t as big an issue as the tapering. They could probably increase the DCFC speed to 70 kW and reduce the tapering with a firmware update and see a big improvement. It also needs adaptive cruise control and a more comfortable interior though.
I am not as concerned about the charge speed or updates. For me, it's still the comfort. The seat is narrow, low and uncomfortable. I know it's a small car, but so is my Spark EV and it's a comfortable cabin. The comfort was a deal breaker for us.
The interior of the Chevy Bolt and dimensions don’t match the excellent powertrain. To argue that it seems high tech is pretty short-sighted considering it doesn’t even have navigation.
I'd mostly agree, although the interior feels spacious enough to me given the class size of the vehicle. I never bought into the drivel of GM trying to sell it as a CUV, so I wasn't disappointed. Where I disagree is the nav. Every manufacturer navigation system I've used is garbage compared to Google Maps. Android Auto does a far better job and keeps getting better, so I'll take that any day. And we have the Wi-Fi hotspot activated, so coverage hasn't been an issue. The aspects I'd label "tech-forward", as opposed to high tech, are the advanced digital dash display (lots of info on regen, range, performance etc.), large central touchscreen, and some of the driver assist features.
Give the Bolt a decent level of autonomous driving.
I think we're still a long way off there, for any vehicle, but GM does have an entire project developing its autonomous vehicles on the Bolt EV platform.
I always see these kinds of articles when writers are looking for something to complain about. It seems obvious to me that the Bolt was the first of it's kind, where GM was the first to offer a truly long range BEV for a relatively affordable price. Other than Tesla, the BEVs of 2013-2015 (when the Bolt was being designed) had ranges of between 55-90 miles, and only the Leaf and rare Mitubishi BEVs had faster than L2 charging, and those models had a proprietary plug, with few chargers anywhere, and charging quickly or too full could damage the batteries. So now it's 4 years later and there are a few new competitive, long range, sub $40K BEVs that have been out a few months, and we see this writer lay into GM for not offering what the brand new BEVs do. Most likely GM has been working on several planned updates that will compete with the latest BEVs, and even offering some new, better features as well. Competition breeds innovation, and that can only be good news for future BEV buyers. Tesla and VW are the next automakers poised to shake things up with BEVs, the Japanese automakers have great engineering capabilities, but they often take the safer route towards profitability, so I expect to see a larger push to electrify by building hybrids/PHEVs, but across their whole model lineup, offering a real EV impact on the market, but with less corporate risk. After killing the Volt, Chevy has almost no EVs to offer other than the Bolt, so I expect refreshes and design updates soon just to stay competitive.
It's hardly "laying into GM" when I consistently go back to the fact that they were first to market and made a great electric car. This isn't "looking for something to complain about," it's a genuine list of items that this Bolt driver would like to see improved to keep me in the Chevy (or wider GM) stable and attract new drivers to the brand. The EV market moves quickly... so must GM.
It is the implication that the Bolt is outdated and severely lacking, compared to it's new BEV competition. But the comparison puts a 3-4 year old design against brand new ones. Is it valid? Sure. And it's fair in the respect that these BEVs are all in competition against one another today. And GM does need to update the Bolt to stay competitive. It's just that in most ways the Bolt is still very competitive, and that fact is overshadowed when you compare against brand new BEVs. I would be surprised if Chevy does not offer a mid-cycle refresh of the Bolt this year.
I think we're actually in broad agreement, with the sticking point being whether or not it's reasonable to compare the Bolt with models that didn't exist when it was designed. On items like the charging profile, that's fair. GM tailored the BMS to the available infrastructure and I don't blame them for erring on the side of battery conservation. On the subject of software updates, I think GM is definitely lacking... but only in comparison to Tesla. The fact that the vehicle is capable of receiving updates but hasn't bumped the 2017 model displays to the more intuitive 2019 screens (set charge limit by %, refined energy usage screens, that kind of thing) is a minor quibble, but it's something GM could fix easily, even without a refresh. That said, I do think they're positioning for a 2020 update. By this time last year they had told us what was coming for the 2019 Bolt. Radio silence on the 2020 so far, which I hope is because they have some bigger news in store for us.
We are in agreement that Chevy should update the Bolt to be more competitive, but my objections are about the fact that Chevy built a leading edge product 3-4 years ago, and your article glosses over all of the features and value that the Bolt still has, and concentrates on a few features that their competition focused on providing in their brand new BEV models. I'll agree that providing a fast charging network is vital to the future of BEVs, but the actual need to have the ability to have fast charging to 100% for day to day use only affects a tiny minority of owners who drive more than 200 miles a day. For the vast majority of drivers, simply having 200+ miles of EV range already solves any concern of running out of power, and most owners simply charge up every evening, or every few days at home or work. Plus with many DC fast chargers costing $0.35 a minute, you would only want to use those chargers if you couldn't charge at home anyway. OTA updates are cool, but again none of my other cars have ever had that feature before and I have gotten by just fine.
I appreciate your feedback and perspective. I spend a lot of time promoting the Bolt EV's qualities in other arenas, so perhaps I underestimated how negative pointing out a few things I'd like to see improved could be viewed. I'm planning to redress the balance a little this week with an article covering the things I love about driving the Bolt and areas where it still beats the competition...hopefully that will serve as an effective counterpoint.
The Bolt is a transition between full technology and existing cars. You can see that in the purchase price. I was able to pick up my Bolt pretax for 30.9k, or 23.4k after rebates. The only Tesla 3 available when I purchased my car (late 2018) started at 46k (or 42.5 after rebates). Way more than I wanted to pay. 1. It doesn't need super fast charging - that charging infrastructure still doesn't readily exist. I have yet to use DC fast charging. 2. OTA updates aren't necessary to the driving experience. I agree the native touchscreen interface is outdated, but you can avoid it mostly by using Android Auto/Carplay 3. The interior is fine for what the Bolt costs.
I'm affraid the lack of OTA updates and the refusal to up the Taper or Increase the charge rate is more than just a fun little gimmick for Tesla owners. I feel its hurting the resale value.. while M3s seem to be holding there own used bolts have taken a big hit. On the upside.. bolt ev batteries will probably last FOREVER as the software seems to keep charging in super-safe-mode.
A hundred years ago, when I was a teenager, I would bash Dodge and Ford all day against my Chevy. Since then I've owned Datsun, Honda, Toyota, and even Ford vehicles but always lamented the fact that the world could not produce a "peoples'" car much less one that looked good, was fun, and all electric. I grabbed the first Bolt I could get off the truck and love this thing. Never going back. There is too much good to say about it for me to whine about OTA or charging time. I haven't pulled into a gas station or "changed oil" for 18 months. This little rocket plugs in like my phone at night and I enjoy features I had on my very expensive Denali. You go GM! And keep pressuring the rest to chase your innovation. Let the gasoline nonsense drop off like the horse and buggy.
I looked at the bolt the Tesla m3 and s (used)and the BMW i3 used and the bolt like most recent Chevy's had cheap looking and feeling interior the drove nice the 3d camera was awesome but the thought of sitting in that car for what is some times a 3 hour commute was terrifying proposition especially for $40,000 Tesla new model releases all way have problems and the model s have drivetrain issues and only Tesla can repair their vehicles I have 2 Tesla dealerships in a hundred mile range of where I live so I went with the i3 Rex 94h which is perfect for someone just getting into ev no range anxiety even when driving to multiple sites in a day very grown-up and comfortable interior and lots of dealerships in my area (once hacked you can turn on the range extender at any time)
DCFC should be standard equipment. Even Mitsubishi has DCFC standard equipment on their 22 miles per charge plugin hybrid.
I hear from plenty of Bolt owners who say they've never used their fast charge capability. But I agree, they'll definitely be glad it's there in a pinch.
How about lowering the price of the Chevy Bolt? It doesn't compete against the Model 3, but the Bolt is a fine car at a lower price point. (I own a Volt, so not a Chevy hater.)
The price seems to be leveling out around $25K after discounts, with federal and state incentives often bringing it closer to $20K, at least until October. A lot of lease return 2017 Bolts could also start to hit the used market early next year, so there's another way in for anyone who can't justify that new EV price tag.
My 2018 bolt will switch from heating to cooling without any driver input. Chevy fixed that in the 2019, but no OTA for the 2018 :-(
As far as I'm concerned, solid-state batteries will make every EV with the current battery obsolete. I'd never buy an EV with the current battery, but would pay a premium for one with a solid-state battery. I'd rent a gasser for long trips until there are enough super-duper charging stations available to satisfy me.
It's an exciting technology but I personally wouldn't want to hold off EV ownership on that basis. All current BEVs will still have four wheels and get from A to B when solid-state models start arriving, so there will be life in them even with superior tech rolling out.
I plan on buying a used Bolt EV this April. At $23k for used it is a good value. I would love a Kona or Niro EV, but you just cannot buy them easily in Connecticut. If you cannot buy one they don't compete in my market. I don't have $$$ for a Tesla. A refresh of this car would be nice, I will use a Prius as a second car for long haul trips. For me those are maybe 2 times a year. 99 percent will be local charge at home driving.

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