Made for sharing? The all-electric, ride share-ready Bolt

GM’s new pure EV, the Chevrolet Bolt, was officially launched during Mary Barra’s keynote at CES 2016. Kevin Mak, Senior Analyst at Strategy Analytics asks, is this EV the right car for ride sharing

GM’s new electric vehicle architecture

The main challenges in raising electric vehicle (EV) acceptance among consumers are mostly associated with battery technology, due to a higher cost premium over conventional vehicles and the lower driving range that results from the lack of energy density in current batteries.

GM tackled the issue over the higher cost premium by revealing its EV architecture at CES. The components required in the electric powertrain are of modular designs that can enable the motor manufacturer to vary powertrain systems to suit different models.

Modular designs enable the volume production of components, enabling a unit cost reduction to be passed on to consumers, thus making the Bolt EV more affordable than otherwise.

Pam Fletcher, GM’s Executive Chief Engineer for Electrified Vehicles, explained the benefits of system modularity, “All of those cars use the same battery pack, module, electronics, cooling systems, etc. But the finished products look different because the packaging in vehicles is very different.”

For example, the design of the 60 kWh battery pack involves 288 lithium-ion battery cells arranged in five sections and in ten modules. The cell arrangement enables the battery pack to fit a compact model and be located under the floor of the vehicle, lowering its centre of gravity for enhanced handling and maximising cabin space.

Furthermore, LG has also been given responsibility to assemble the battery pack because it is already a major battery cell supplier to EVs. With production of the entire battery pack within a single supplier in a single location, this also enables some cost reduction.

Like with the earlier Spark EV, the electric motor design on the Bolt reduces GM’s reliance on costly rare earth materials.

On the issue of range anxiety, GM has optimised the powertrain to bring about as much efficiency as possible, resulting in a more usable 200 mile (322 km) driving range when compared to the 100 miles commonly found in other compact EVs.

For example, the electric motor connects in a new offset gear and shaft configuration in order to meet both the efficiency and performance targets specified for the model. Consumers are often concerned about the lack of performance in EVs – the Bolt’s 0-60 mph (97 km/h) acceleration is within a respectable seven seconds.

New component designs feature size and weight reductions that result in enhancing overall efficiency and extending driving range. The driver can apply additional brake regeneration by squeezing the paddle behind the steering wheel. The battery cells now use a nickel-rich chemistry, increasing energy density and so increasing driving range. The Bolt also features fast-charging systems, with the option to use the CCS (Combined Charging System) DC charging plug that enables a driving range of 90 miles (145 km) in 30 minutes.

2017 Chevrolet Bolt

The rise of car and ride sharing

The high cost of car ownership and the flexibility of hiring vehicles in different locations at different times have enabled the success of car sharing and ride sharing schemes.

Car sharing schemes have been in place for a number of years, and one of the most successful is Zipcar, which was founded in 2000. It has over 10,000 cars operating in 31 different cities around the world with 900,000 subscribers. With traditional hire car companies recognising the success of the car sharing system, Avis Budget acquired Zipcar in 2013 for US$500m.

Hoping to succeed in this market are a number of rival vehicle manufacturers who already have car sharing operations, including BMW’s DriveNow, Daimler’s Car2Go, Ford’s GoDrive, Peugeot’s Mu and Volkswagen’s Quicar networks. GM is a late entrant.

However, ride sharing schemes are more flexible in that they enable users to hail their rides by using a smartphone app from more locations and at any time. Unlike taxi cabs, they are also more cost-effective, since the drivers only wish to earn additional revenue when they happen to make a journey. Uber was founded in 2009 and is regarded as the world’s leading ride sharing provider, registering its one-billionth journey in December 2015.

With the greater convenience offering to consumers and thus the market potential in ride sharing, GM hopes to leapfrog its OEM rivals.

Maven is part of GM's transition from a car manufacturer to a mobility provider
Maven is part of GM’s transition from a car manufacturer to a mobility provider

In January 2016, GM launched its Maven ride sharing brand, having recently invested US$500m in the Lyft ride sharing scheme and acquiring the assets of the defunct Sidecar ride sharing scheme. It has also hired staff from Google and Zipcar to the new business unit.

GM hopes to gain access to software from Lyft and Sidecar, which matches riders with drivers and enables payment between the two, as well as placing GM vehicles onto the ride sharing market. Maven will begin operations in Ann Arbor, Michigan, before moving to other cities in the US, such as Chicago and New York City, and cities in Germany and China.

Ultimately, GM may include autonomous vehicle technology in its long-term ride sharing strategy.

EV potential in ride sharing

Car and ride sharing schemes have often targeted cities in which to operate. This is because the lack of private garages, high taxation and insurance premiums required to operate private vehicles prevent many consumers from owning their own vehicle. With their lack of tailpipe emissions, it also means that EVs are often targeted for car and ride sharing fleets.

The Autolib car sharing schemes in Paris, and now Indianapolis, involve the use of the Bolloré Blue Car. The Bolloré conglomerate is involved with media, plastics and logistics, as well as lithium-ion battery production. The Blue Car EV complements the car sharing scheme, which started in 2011. Bolloré recently agreed for Renault to build the Blue Car at the OEM’s facility in Dieppe, France.

Major OEM car sharing schemes also use EVs, such as the i3 by BMW’s DriveNow, the Smart ed by Daimler’s Car2Go, the Focus Electric by Ford’s GoDrive and the iOn by Peugeot’s Mu.

City authorities are offering incentives for the use of EVs, instead of conventionally-powered vehicles, in order to reduce air pollution.

However, ride sharing schemes using EVs would usually be hampered by their high cost and lack of driving range. The charging infrastructures in many cities are often limited. Therefore, the longer 200-mile driving range will entice more ride sharing drivers to purchase the Bolt.

As reported in a Strategy Analytics blog, Going Electric In Amsterdam, a taxi driver with the Tesla Model S said he had never failed to complete an 8 hour driving shift from the EV’s driving range, topped-up during his hour long lunch break.

With a floor-mounted battery pack, the Bolt offers more room for passengers than other compact EVs. And at around US$29,500 after subsidies, the Bolt is more affordable to purchase than the Tesla Model S, the only other EV with a driving range of 200 miles or more. The Nissan Leaf has the same price, but half the range of the Bolt.

The BYD e6 is currently being trialled by Uber in the US. The Chinese EV has a lower driving range of 300 km (186 miles) and costs more, at around US$37,900 after subsidies.

While there have been no further announcements on which vehicles will be selected for Maven, Strategy Analytics believes that the Bolt may have potential to succeed.

While GM has improved EV technology, the cost of fuel may be too low for the Bolt to compete against conventionally-powered vehicles, particularly used vehicles that are often purchased for taxi cabs. While electricity is even less expensive than diesel and gasoline, the payback to recoup the cost premium in purchasing the EV is still too long.

However, when comparing between the Nissan Leaf and the diesel-powered Nissan Pulsar compact models, the driver of the Leaf will have to drive 83,333 miles (134,111 km) before the cost premium of US$7,000 can be recouped if fuel costs were US$2.80 per 100 miles in the Leaf and US$11.20 per 100 miles in the Pulsar.

According to Sir Charles Masefield, Chairman of Metrocab, an average London taxi driver drives 200 miles each day or approximately 70,000 miles each year. For a Nissan Leaf to recoup the cost premium in just over one year, this may provide hope for the Bolt.

In the Netherlands, additional incentives have even enabled the costlier Tesla Model S to become a commercial proposition for taxi cabs there, where the Model S 60 costs US$67,875 after subsidies.

Where conventionally-powered vehicles have to pay to enter certain city centres, such as the Congestion Charge Zone in London, the Bolt will see success with ride sharing schemes. In Europe, cities such as London are aiming to mandate all taxis to run on zero emissions in city centres by 2018.

This article appeared in the Q1 2016 issue of Automotive Megatrends Magazine. Follow this link to download the full issue.