EVs Move Downmarket at Detroit Auto Show

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Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty Images
Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors Co. (GM), speaks after unveiling the Chevrolet 2016 Bolt concept vehicle at the 2015 North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit, Michigan, U.S., on Monday, Jan. 12, 2015.

Carmakers are falling over themselves to announce full-electric, hybrid, and alternative-fuel vehicles at this year’s Detroit auto show. Chevrolet announced a concept for a mid-range fully electric car, the 200-mile-range Bolt, that might cost around $37,500 before tax credits in its 2017 lineup. The Bolt, designed by an Australian subsidiary of GM, will use a battery under development by LG that has a less block-like design than conventional battery packs and could offer carmakers more design flexibility.

The only current widely distributed electric car in that price range, the 84-mile range Nissan Leaf, will see “a lot of enhancements,” in time to compete with the Bolt, says Nissan-Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn. Other companies, such as BMW and Audi, are also commercializing full EVs, but the Chevrolet announcement is a sign that mainstream American carmakers are now stepping into the fray.

At the top of the market, the only electric contender is Tesla’s Model S, a $100,000 luxury car that sold about 33,000 units last year, the Detroit Free Press reports. Tesla also repeated its promise to add a new $35,000 electric car to its lineup, the Model 3, but the timing is unclear.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk said at the show that he welcomed competition from the Bolt and other new models: “I think that’s great. I hope to see a lot more of that.”

Honda and Toyota, meanwhile, continue to work on hydrogen fuel cell technology. Honda announced a 2016 model-year fuel cell vehicle with a 300-mile range. The carmakers also have full-electric and hybrid vehicles scheduled for the 2018 model year.

Yet recent lower gasoline prices may slow demand for alternative fuel vehicles. Auto Nation CEO Mike Jackson told the Wall Street Journal that for now, “The industry will lose money on [electric vehicles].”

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