The Next Model T

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Could Chevy’s Bolt reinvent the concept of the automobile?

Many of us are familiar with Tesla Motors. The Silicon Valley Upstart has made a lot of waves over the last decade, not only for changing the concept of the electric car but also its approach to sales, service and collision repairs.

Yet for all the talk about Tesla disrupting the automotive landscape, it could be argued that true transformative change in the concept of the private car might actually come from an old, established automaker—General Motors.

GM has long been involved with electric powertrains and it’s latest offering, the pure electric Chevy Bolt has the potential to radically change public perception of the pure electric passenger vehicle—much as Henry Ford’s Model T did a century ago. Through Ford’s innovative mass-production system, the Model T transformed the fledgling motor car from an exclusive domain of the rich, to something almost everybody could afford.

Up until now, electric cars, have been either too expensive and/or too niche in appeal for mainstream consumers.

Granted, U.S. states like California and New York (plus closer to home, provinces like British Columbia), have made great strides to develop incentive programs and infrastructure development projects to support electric vehicles but still, EVs have failed to gain traction on any notable level.

That could change with the Bolt. It features smart European city-car looks with a large greenhouse and a surprising amount of interior room, since the battery pack is located under the floor (previously, many EVs suffered from limited cargo/passenger capacity because their batteries were mounted behind the front seats or in the luggage area).

A big problem with many EVs also concerns range. GM gives the Bolt an official range of 383 km (283 miles) which, when you factor in the MSRP of around $30,000 U.S. after incentives, makes it the most enticing EV yet (up until now, most EVs even approaching this price range have struggled to go more than 140 km on a single charge).

To further sweeten the pot, GM is also covering the Bolt’s battery system with an 8-year 100,000 mile/160,000 km limited warranty as well as taking steps to enhance battery system dependability via nickel rich chemistry and an active cooling system derived from that used in the Volt.

Ok, so it’s early days yet, but right now, the Bolt doesn’t really have any competition in the marketplace. Of course, whether it succeeds or not will also depend on many factors, such as oil prices, economic conditions, consumer purchasing power and the introduction of vehicles like the much- ballyhooed Tesla Model 3 (which aims to offer a range of 346 km at $35,000-but is not expected to reach full-scale production before the end of the decade).

It’s clear GM is serious with the Bolt and if public acceptance and economies of scale can be realized, it’s likely it will become significantly more affordable and efficient over time, much like the Model T was.

And, much like the Model T was able to create an entire automotive eco-system built around it for mechanical and body repairs, it’s highly possible that the Bolt could do the same. In the collision sector, we’ve already seen a major disruption with the launch of the aluminum bodied Ford F-150; perhaps we’ll see another one with the Bolt.

If that’s the case, shops will need to ensure their staff and equipment are geared to handle higher volume EV repairs. This not only includes safely working with high-voltage electrical systems, (such as providing technicians with protective clothing and insulation poles) but also battery charging equipment, non metallic work surfaces, and a thorough understanding from all industry stakeholders on exactly what’s involved to successfully repair an EV subjected to collision damage.

Today’s environment, where OE Certification is rapidly gaining momentum will undoubtedly help, yet like the F-150, shops will need to ensure they’re able to anticipate the market as much as possible and be ready to go with Bolt repairs. Otherwise, they face the possibility of being quickly left behind.

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