GM’s Bolt electric car in mass production for 2016 launch

General Motors (GM) is ramping up production of its Chevrolet Bolt electric car in preparation for its impending release at the end of the year.

They will be constructed in a factory north of Detroit and will be first electric vehicles (EV) with more than 200 miles of driving range to launch with a starting price lower than $40,000 (£32,213) before tax credits.

Major rival Tesla isn’t set to launch its affordable EV, the Model 3, until the end of next year, although it is designed to be even more affordable with a launch price of just $35,000. 

But the Bolt and the Model 3 represent contrasting strategies to push electric vehicles into the mainstream of the US car market.

Tesla chief executive Elon Musk has said the company will overhaul its Fremont, California, factory to build as many as 500,000 Model 3 sedans [saloon cars in UK terminology] and related models a year.

Tesla’s Model 3 design prototypes show a car aimed at German luxury sedans such as the Audi A3 or A4. Musk has said nearly 400,000 people have put down deposits on the Model 3.

GM, however, is taking a more cautious approach. The $37,495 Bolt, with a 238-mile range, is a compact, utilitarian hatchback with design features such as a thin front seat to increase rear-seat legroom, aimed at making the car attractive to drivers for ride-hailing services.

GM’s Maven car-sharing operation will receive Bolts to offer drivers who want to work for GM’s ride-hailing partner, Lyft. Company officials will not say how many customers have tried to order Bolts from dealers.

GM announced it would invest $500m in Lyft in January as part of a long-term plan to eventually develop an on-demand network of self-driving cars. 

But the Bolts will be produced in relatively limited numbers initially, as GM has been burned in the past by over-estimating demand for electric or hybrid cars.

Sales of electric and plug-in hybrid cars represent just one per cent of the US light vehicle market, despite government efforts to promote cleaner cars.

At GM’s Orion assembly plant, Bolts are rolling off the same final assembly line as gasoline-fuelled Chevrolet Sonic sedans and hatchbacks with a Bolt constituting every fourth or fifth car.

The Orion plant is working on one shift, building at a pace of about 90,000 cars a year.

GM redesigned the Orion assembly operation to allow workers to build either Bolts or Sonics and can shift production depending on demand, said Yves Dontigny, launch manager for the Bolt.

At one assembly station, after a Sonic body is mated to its gasoline engine and axles, a carrier wheels the battery pack for a Bolt into place. The same workers secure it to a Bolt body hanging on a carrier overhead.

Last month, Toyota revealed it had developed a new lithium-ion battery that packs more power and offers extra safety features which it intends to include in a new range of EVs. 

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