By on August 10, 2016

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV

Green cars should cut through the air like a bird, not a wall, but a team of stylists at General Motors’ South Korean design studio wasn’t thinking of that when they put together the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt.

The main goal of the team crafting the first “affordable” 200-mile electric vehicle was creating a vehicle with enough interior room to satisfy a nation of crossover fanatics. The result? A veritable brick, but a spacious one at that.

The boys and girls in Incheon worked under a tight deadline to get the final product ready for the 2016 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. When complete, the vehicle had a 0.32 coefficient of drag, worse than the Impala’s 0.29 and the Cruze’s 0.28. The slipperiest green vehicle around, the Toyota Prius, enjoys a 0.24 drag coefficient.

While the Bolt won’t win win a medal for its aerodynamics, or lack there of, the team is proud of the interior volume.

“We call it a C-segment interior on a B-segment platform,” lead designer Stuart Norris told Automotive News. “We need to sell more of these electric vehicles, so we need something that has more broad mass appeal.”

One thing crossover buyers don’t think about when they weigh competing models is aerodynamics, so the designers weren’t willing to give up a tall body to reduce drag. Tesla’s EVs make headlines for speed (and lengthy waits), but Americans carry around a lot of stuff, and any 200-plus mile GM EV with a hatch can’t be cramped.

“It’s a disaster for aero,” Norris said, adding that six versions of the vehicle underwent wind tunnel testing. The team added grille shutters, air dams, underside panels, a spoiler and rear body modifications, then called it a day.

The Bolt’s interior room came by pushing the wheels to the corners, moving the heating and AC units further forward and lowering the floor. Production begins in October, meaning the Bolt beats its Tesla Model 3 competition by a year, though the Tesla has 373,000 orders waiting to be filled.

[Image: General Motors]

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53 Comments on “The Chevrolet Bolt Is Less Aerodynamic than an Impala, but Its Designers Don’t Care...”


  • avatar
    Sigivald

    Another thing to remember is that Cd doesn’t matter nearly so much at low speeds … like city use and in-traffic commutes.

    It helps get you better highway numbers, but I don’t exactly see this thing as being targeted at that market (remember the Prius is a *hybrid*, not an EV).

    (Roughly, speed squared is one of the factors in force required to overcome drag.

    That “squared” being the important part; at city-traffic speeds a brick requires [basically] no more force to accelerate than a perfectly streamlined body of the same mass.)

    • 0 avatar

      True enough.

      Worth adding that EV’s get great efficiency around town since the equivalent of ‘idling’ in nose to tail traffic or at a red light is done with a static traction motor that draws little to no energy.

      There is one downside to a tall car, it catches the wind and you really feel it even at relatively low speeds. EV efficiency on a windy day is measurably lower.

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      Indeed. Car design always involves compromise. Short wheelbase, low CD, roomy interior. Pick two. I’d say the folks in Incheon made the right choice for this application.

    • 0 avatar
      derekson

      Cd also isn’t even the relevant number. The actual number that applies is the frontal area times the drag coefficient.

      • 0 avatar
        05lgt

        The aero engineer hiding behind height for the high CD was blowing smoke. Sure, it’s in his job description, but still. The CD is pretty much drag (can be measured) divided by frontal area. The extra height is removed in the CD calculation. Keeping it tall all the way back hurt, wheels at the corners hurt. Wind testing only 6 versions? If I remember some other stories about aero development, that’s a joke.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    Well, that’s a shame. Drag coefficient does have to be multiplied by frontal area for mileage calculations, though, so the Bolt might come out a bit better in that regard.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      No it won’t. The fact that it is tall makes the frontal area, and thus total drag rather large.

      But I too think they made the right decision. As the market is showing, the demand for low cars is dropping currently. Tall is in.

  • avatar
    JuniperBug

    To be fair, it’s far easier to make a long sedan aerodynamic than it is a hatched vehicle. If making this thing a hatch makes it more spacious – and attracts the buyers who are looking for that spaciousness – then GM probably made the right decision.

    My guess is that the market which buys an electric CUV isn’t buying it to do long road trips in anyway, and highway speeds are where aerodynamics matter. Putter along in the city and suburbs and they’re not nearly as important.

    For what it’s worth, Car & Driver says that a Nissan Leaf also has a cD of 0.32. Apparently, the McLaren F1, with spoiler retracted, also has the same number.

    • 0 avatar
      tnk479

      But the McLaren generates tremendous down force with it’s aero package whereas a Leaf can’t go fast enough to need any down force.

      • 0 avatar
        JuniperBug

        True – the McLaren also has over 600 hp to push its way through the wind and has a very different design mission. I mentioned it more as an interesting fact, but it is a 235 MPH capable car…

        Probably better to focus on the fact that the Nissan Leaf has the same cD, and although I don’t actively follow these things, I don’t remember anyone saying that it was an aerodynamic travesty.

  • avatar

    I have to agree with the comments about city mileage. GM is aiming for the leaf marketplace with no range anxiety instead of a full on replacement car like Tesla. If they still match the range numbers but lose a little efficiency at highway speeds, I don’t see this hurting them much. Also it’s been floated by a few websites that GM is only estimating 30k yearly sales. It seems they should be able to hit that at least until more competition arrives.

  • avatar
    greenbrierdriver

    As someone who already drives a 4,000 lb Brick, I can relate to the fact that in-town, it doesnt matter. More important to me for something like the Bolt or any other vehicle is whether I can get IN the thing. Im tall and kinda round and my back doesnt bend much (old injury). I tried to do a test drive on a Volt and couldnt even get in the door. The top rail is just too low. Camaro? Even Worse. The Impala and Malibu are do-able, but just. This thing of making the door openings smaller and smaller, even if the vehicle isnt needs to end. Why do people like CUVs? Because the market is getting older and less flexible. Oh, we like to at least see the lug nuts on the Bro-dozers, too!!

  • avatar
    Carlson Fan

    I’d say sacrificing the drag coefficient to improve interior room for the Bolt makes a lot of sense. No one will care or miss the reduced range at highway speeds but will surely appreciate the interior room on a daily basis.

  • avatar
    Da Coyote

    GM used to have stylists back in the 60s, perhaps the best in the business in the world.

    Not any more.

    Of course, IMHO, this comment is pretty accurate for the vast majority of makes and models from all manufacturers.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    Price you pay for creating a more conventional looking 5-door.

  • avatar
    Adam Tonge

    I like how the Bolt looks, and I think it would be a great commuter car. There. I said it. I feel better now.

    • 0 avatar

      Finally I don’t feel like the only one thinking that. To me the Bolt looks like a car I would like to own practical hatchback with some decent styling cues. The 3 looks like an egg with an angry face with tape over it.

    • 0 avatar
      Nostrathomas

      Agreed, it’s a great looking little car.

      I just wish they styled the color out of the Chevy logo. That yellow logo always cheapens anything they put it on.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

      I like it too, its a smart looking little hatch that doesn’t manage to be offensive anywhere. I wouldn’t call it sexy, but, this isn’t the market for sexy.

      Right now, it’s the market for ugly (LEAF) or vaporware (Model 3). The Bolt looks like a winner from here.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    I’m glad for this – meaning I’m glad they biased toward utility.

    My former xB1 had a Cd of 0.35 and low gearing. So it got 31-35 mpg whether you drove it in the city or on the highway.

    But I really bought it for the interior room, which is still hard to match in any car made today.

    If the Bolt had long-distance charging like the Supercharger network, I’d seriously consider making it my first GM car, and cancelling my Model 3 pre-order. But it doesn’t.

    • 0 avatar
      hubcap

      ” I’d seriously consider making it my first GM car, and cancelling my Model 3 pre-order.”

      LOL.

      I can’t see it. You’ve been writing sonnets to the Model 3. Would you really go behind it’s back for the Bolt?

      Again, I font see it.

      • 0 avatar
        SCE to AUX

        @hubcap:

        I’m not blind to Tesla’s problems. Their service network is about to become severely strained. They have a solid history of overpromising on dates, but not content. The Model X’s complexity points to how immature their development process is, which should have weeded out wacky design features. I have doubts the Model 3 will remain in my price range, even with modest options.

        But Tesla remains the only company producing true cross-country EVs, and their vehicles’ performance and visual appeal is undisputed.

        I really enjoyed my Leaf, and I look forward to buying an EV that doesn’t have the same shortcomings. The Bolt probably comes very close, but I suspect the Model 3 goes all the way.

    • 0 avatar
      Kenmore

      I’ll be really surprised if the passenger experience inside the Bolt is much different than in the previous gen Fit. Every photo I can find of it only reinforces its equating to a 2-inch taller 2013 Fit.

      The present gen of Fit has made interior volume compromises in such a way as to noticeably diminish that incredible sense of spaciousness the earlier ones gave (examples of both in my family).

      The Bolt could be that stand-alone TARDIS car while offering all the EV mileage a retired town-abouter could need.

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    “Production begins in October, meaning the Bolt beats its Tesla Model 3 competition by a year”

    We’re just comparing promises, right?

    It will be interesting to compare the reality.
    Didn’t Tesla miss SOP on the X by about 20 months?

    • 0 avatar
      Chocolatedeath

      The reality is that the first Tesla might be here in a year but the first 300 will take another year. I just dont see how they are going to get it delivered before 2018 LATE.
      I know the loyalist will say what and see. Well I guess we all will.

    • 0 avatar
      redav

      I have much more confidence in GM hitting their sales date target than Tesla. History does not prove future performance, but it’s still worth a lot.

      • 0 avatar
        JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

        ^^^THIS^^^

        GM tells you a new Impala is coming, by God, its there when they say it is. They might confuse you by keeping the old one in production, lol, but they aren’t in the habit of making promises and not coming through.

        Tesla, on the other hand…
        The Model 3’s design is evidently not even frozen yet. This does not bode well IMO.

    • 0 avatar
      APaGttH

      Bolt has been in manufacturing pre-production since March. October looks realistic. I suspect will be rolled out in key geographies first and national availability 6 months give or take after.

      Pure speculation, I have nothing to back that up as fact.

  • avatar
    Kenmore

    Bolt is listed as 62.8″ high. That’s HR-V matching. And it’s rear cargo capacity is more like the Fit than the little brokeback HR-V.

    I’ll certainly at least go sit in one.

  • avatar
    Kenmore

    “Less Aerodynamic than an Impala”

    Impala YTD sales sit at 61,435 continuing a steady six year decline. I’d love to see the Bolt outsell them. Could happen.

  • avatar
    meefer

    I have a 60 miles round trip commute, so with errands I’d have massive range anxiety in any current reasonably priced EV. Model S 85 kWH are dropping intot he $50K mark though, we’ll see how they price the Bolt. If it hits $30K with incentives as promised, it will replace my Volt when that thing gives up the ghost/extended warranty.

  • avatar
    SunnyvaleCA

    Sigh. Drag coefficient isn’t the issue. Drag is the issue, since drag is what the engine needs to overcome in order to keep the vehicle at a constant speed on the flat ground. A simplistic explanation is that drag = drag coefficient * surface area. (Surface area can be a tricky thing, but in a vehicle like this, it’s probably approximately the frontal area of the vehicle.) I believe a big brown UPS delivery truck has a drag coefficient of 0.19; it’s the frontal surface area that is the problem there.

    The coefficient, compared to the Prius is about 35% more. That does seem surprising mediocre in this modern day. Add in that the Bolt’s frontal area is probably a little bit larger and you could expect the aerodynamic drag is maybe about 50% more at any given speed. If gas costs 2x more per energy delivered, the Bolt is still ahead on an energy cost basis… it’s just the total travel distance capability that is compromised. But if the Bolt gives you an honest 150 miles on the highway, that might be just fine with some people—the gasoline powered Prius is really in a whole different league due to the popularity of placing gas stations along roads for easy access and the quick recharge the gas stations can accomplish with the Prius.

  • avatar
    Jagboi

    Still, a 0.32 coefficient is nothing shabby in itself. A Jaguar E Type that looks very aerodynamic is 0.45 cD. Small frontal area and lots of HP though.

  • avatar
    IAhawkeye

    What’s going on with that C-pillar? How the heck are you supposed to see out of that? That blind spot is going to be HUGE.

  • avatar
    Wheatridger

    So far, not one respondent shares the righteous outrange of the author that this car isn’t as streamlined as a carpenter’s wedge. Why won’t that give the author any doubt about the overwrought, emphatic, one-sided opinions that drive her stories?

  • avatar
    shaker

    The Honda Fit comparisons seem a little “off” to me…

    The Bolt seems closer to the Kia Soul form factor, albeit a little less boxy, with somewhat more interior room. Still a tall and shallow cargo area behind the rear seat, very similar cargo room to the Soul with the rear seats folded.

    If you want to compare apples-to-apples, the Bolt EV can be compared directly to the Soul EV – with the Bolt having twice the range and better performance (based on what little info is out there), for about $3.5k more.

    And as far as looks go, I think that compared to anything but a Tesla, the Bolt isn’t the loser of any (Hybrid/EV) beauty contest.

    And, the dealers that have experience servicing the Volt (which just passed 100,000 sales) should be familiar with the Bolt (on the EV side).

    • 0 avatar
      Kenmore

      Fit and Bolt share an extreme cab-forward egg shape I prize. Less so with the new gen Fit, but still fairly unique among USDM cars.

      I love having the minimum amount of hood to look over as well as the extra stretch that allows the passenger compartment.

  • avatar
    Dave W

    An electric Fit that doesn’t have back killing Honda seats? I have to check this out. My winter commute is ~60 miles, top speed limits 50mph (including past a hiway patrol barracks) meaning the distance should work for me.

  • avatar
    bd2

    To really function as a “soccer-mom-mobile”, GM will need to come up with a larger, more spacious crossover and it doesn’t need to be a straight EV, as one with the Voltec powertrain will do (Buick Electra?).

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