By on September 15, 2016

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV

The United Kingdom isn’t scared of electric vehicles, what with their high fuel prices and limited driving distances (when compared to the U.S.).

However, General Motors has developed a serious case of cold feet on the issue of launching a Vauxhall-branded Chevrolet Bolt, which could prove a decent sales performer. An all-electric range of 238 miles is impressive, so why is the General so shy?

According to Automotive News Europe, GM feels burned by the public’s failure to make the Vauxhall Ampera (a right-hand-drive version of the first-generation Chevrolet Volt) a sales success.

Sold under the British Vauxhall brand in the UK and Opel in continental Europe, the Ampera was a dud. In its best year, GM never sold more than 5,300 of them on the other side of the Atlantic, despite predicting sales twice that high.

The Bolt, due to reach U.S. dealers in limited numbers this December, goes on sale as the Opel Ampera-e in mainland Europe. While the first-generation Volt was designed with right-hand drive in mind, the new Bolt is a much more American affair. Switching the steering wheel to the starboard side is a financial gamble GM doesn’t want to take — at least, not just yet.

“It’s a more cautious approach,” a Opel brand spokesperson told ANE. “If you don’t want to lose too much money, we prefer not to make right-hand-drive yet. The decision was partly financial.”

Suddenly cautious, GM will play the waiting game to see how the Ampera-e performs in the rest of Europe. Since the launch of the original Ampera, the idea of an electric car has grown more familiar. Electric recharging infrastructure has proliferated, and continental automakers are eager to build EVs to fight Tesla on their home turf. EV sales, though still limited, are up 9.2 percent in August, year-over-year, according to UK industry association SMMT.

European regulators rate the Ampera-e’s range at 249 miles, or 400 kilometers. That places the northern England cities of Sheffield, Manchester and Liverpool within driving range of London.

Perhaps tellingly, GM hasn’t released sales projections for the Ampera-e.

[Image: General Motors]

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33 Comments on “Why the Chevrolet Bolt Won’t Wear a Union Jack Anytime Soon...”


  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Makes sense to me. If the Volt wasn’t as successful as they had hoped, why would the Bolt be any different?

    • 0 avatar
      whynot

      Well the Bolt does have several advantages over the Volt such as actually being able to seat 5 and having a more mainstream European small hatchback/MPV look.

      I’m not saying it to be a huge success, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it sells better than the Ampera did.

      • 0 avatar
        stuki

        In addition, even Euros told by Dear Leader that huffing soot is their duty, as chief stewards of pretend-to-sound-scientiffally-opposed-to-soda-bubbles; are starting to get a bit concerned about the dirtiness and smelliness of it all. So are a bit less likely to ruthlessly compare cost/mile vis-a-vis the very efficient oil burners available over there.

    • 0 avatar
      Coopdeville

      Maybe the Volt wasn’t as successful as they hoped because they called it the Ampera. That has to be one of the worst car names I’ve ever come across.

      Not that Chevy’s making things any better with the Spark, Volt, and now Bolt.

    • 0 avatar
      Guitar man

      Volt didn’t sell because it was too expensive. The English are POOR, they just think the world revolves around them.

      Seriously, GM is spinning you a line. They won’t sell the Bolt in the UK because they are about to lose all their EU subsidies when they go boldly go outwards into the world and starve alone.

    • 0 avatar
      Fjonsson

      First Ampera was a hybrid. Pointless car like the first prius. This one is different.

  • avatar
    tsoden

    While I understand the cost of manufacturing the Volt was quite high (hence the price point), I often wonder if offering this car at a lower price point would have generated more sales? The Volt was far from a sales success where I live… but it still seems more popular that the electric options… like the Nissan Leaf.

  • avatar
    la834

    Too bad – the Bolt/Ampera-e is better suited for the UK than the US, in part because of the smaller size of the country but also because 240 volt, 16 amp outlets are ubiquitous in Britain and Europe so you could get reasonably fast charges just about anywhere. The UK version is individually fused as well making them safe to use despite their higher amperage. Meanwhile the US prods along with archaic 120 volt power for most household uses and that can barely recharge a car overnight.

    • 0 avatar
      KevinB

      240 volt power is available in every household in the U.S. A homeowner could have an outlet installed in his/her garage or unplug their electric clothes dryer and charge their car from it.

      • 0 avatar
        mcs

        @KevinB: You’re absolutely right. I’ve actually done that a few times. Not only are dryer outlets available, but if you’re on the road, you can tap into NEMA 14-50 240 volt RV outlets at campgrounds.

    • 0 avatar
      RobertRyan

      @la834
      Still takes ages to recharge. Even though distances are not great in the UK, you can easily achieve the maximum range of the vehicle, then have to wait for it to recharge. I can see the uptake of the Amperage, Bolt would be pretty poor.

  • avatar
    markogts

    The reasons first gen Volt/Ampera fizzled in EU are straightforward:
    1) the price was what the average European would spend on its main car, not on the second. But, for being the first car, it had too little room both for passengers as for luggage.
    2) The shape was a sedan, which are the least appreciated cars in EU (unless they are of the german triad, of course).
    3) It was way ahead of its time. Just think that in the town where I live (200.000p., IT), there are only 7 charging spots, and have all been installed in late 2015.
    4) Opel really didn’t push it on the marketing side. The image it delivered was that of a poor copy of a Prius with one seat less.

    I strongly believe that they should try again with the second generation of the Volt. Just look at what Mitsubishi has accomplished with the Outlander phev (25 mi EV range!) in UK and Netherlands.

    Also, I believe they’ve made quite a mistake to call the Bolt “Ampera-e”; it is confusing both for humans and for search engines. Well, actually even Bolt seems a joke…

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      Any names with hyphens or other two-piece formatting makes things more complicated for searches, used listings, websites, etc. and I think are a bad idea.

      Like searching for the RAV-4, RAV4, CRV, CR-V, 4 Runner, Four Runner FourRunner, 4Runner. CrossTrekXV, Cross Trek X V, Cross TrekXV.

      People are largely ignorant and don’t know the proper way to put it.

    • 0 avatar
      motormouth

      You can never underestimate GM’s ability to totally screw up a decent naming convention.

      Volt – excellent. Ampera (despite amp, etc.) Stupid
      Bolt – really good. Ampera-e. Stupid (see above)

      To underling this practise, there’s the model known as Junior in development and then – at the last minute – rebadged Adam. Utter madness, Junior was a fantastic name, would’ve worked globally (although the car’s still Euro-only), but the company had to give the nod to Adam Opel, an obscure reference even among car fans.

    • 0 avatar
      RHD

      An excellent analysis. Too bad the automotive professionals at GM can’t figure out how the customers will actually choose their vehicles.
      On the other hand, not all customers do an intelligent analysis on their needs and which vehicle will best satisfy them. Many get handed a car by the salesman, who shoehorns them into it by finagling the financing end of the transaction. That’s why you see little old ladies driving the high-end sporty versions of cars, and single women driving huge SUVs.

  • avatar
    tedward

    Gm may have the right of it here, hard to say. We see way too many foreign market opinions about what carmakers should be doing in the us that are just obviously wrong for me to try and guess UK market possibilities.

    Vw should have a lineup that starts in the upper 30’s and features the scirroco, all these pussy cuv’s should be body on frame, we should all be driving kei cars etc… Those are all wrong when applied to the us, why would our armchair analysis from afar be any better?

  • avatar
    dwford

    GM is not showing much commitment to RHD markets. The Camaro is getting exported to Europe as LHD only also.

    If the Bolt is taking the Ampera name, does that mean the new Volt is not going to Europe?

  • avatar
    alexndr333

    The Ampera was unsuccessful – not in any absolute sense, but relative to the costs to develop it, especially for the RHD market. My guess is that GM has now run the numbers for all the tooling and manufacturing add-ons to create a right-hand drive Ampera-e (Bolt) for England and said, “Nah, it just doesn’t pencil.” Now, I wish they had their (non-existent) CMO in the room to suggest that some marketing money be transferred to engineering to build the right-hooker so that they could get some headlines throughout the world market. But that’s not GM these days – no vision, just great engineering and sound money management. I guess two out of three is still profitable – but it’s not inspiring.

  • avatar
    Johnster

    The first generation Volt/Ampera was ugly and doomed to fail for that reason!

    In contrast, the second-generation Volt/Ampera is reasonably attractive, although it has a very strong resemblance to the Chevy Cruze on which it is based.

    GM UK (Vauxhall) is being short-sighted in not bringing in the Bolt.

  • avatar
    HotPotato

    The UK in general and London in particular have good incentives to get people into electric cars, including up to 5000 pounds (~$6700) up-front toward purchase, no VED vehicle tax, exemption from congestion charges, free or reduced price parking in many boroughs, grants of up to 75% to install a home charge point, and the Source London network of 1400 charge points.

    The countryside is trickier as infrastructure is thinner, but let’s be honest, the UK’s not THAT big, and unless you’re on an M road, you can’t go very fast.

    I just spent several days driving the length of the Welsh coastline and then over into England in a Nissan Qashqai. Like most regular-people Euro/UK cars, it was a diesel with modest acceleration but very impressive MPG–nevertheless, the price of motor fuel made fill-ups painful. Would drivers find it cheaper to run on electrons? Would drivers enjoy doing 0-60 in 6.5 seconds rather than 14? I imagine the answer is “yes.” What’s more, the Bolt’s tidy width and extremely strong merging acceleration would suit the country’s narrow roadways and short merging lanes, and its nimble handling and quasi-CUV shape would suit UK buyer preferences.

    So what’s the problem? By sticking with right-hand drive in a mostly left-hand drive world, the UK has ensured it will get cool cars from abroad last, if at all.

    • 0 avatar
      RobertRyan

      @HotPotato
      Range anxiety and lack of charging stations are a big problem. RHD no.I have driven probably over the same roads you have.

      • 0 avatar
        HotPotato

        There’s something comforting about seeing loads of gas stations even when you don’t need one, because *just in case you did*…

        So yes, I’d feel uncomfortable road-tripping through areas with more sheep than people, thinking that a charger might be an hour’s drive away, even if rationally I knew I had ample range to get there and far beyond. I wonder what the tipping point for frequency of chargepoints is, to get over that psychological hurdle. Back in the 1920s, how many fuel stations had to spring up in a person’s area before they’d consider buying their first gasoline powered vehicle? I wonder.

        As an Aussie you won’t like this, but I still think right-hand drive/left-hand traffic is an anachronism that needlessly adds cost and complexity to export—only 10% of the world’s countries use it, mostly island nations where land borders with LHD countries won’t be an issue. Some say it’s chosen to enhance safety because many people are right eye dominant, but archaeological excavations of double-track roadways in Swindon suggest another reason for this convention among current and former British subjects: ancient Romans in what is now England drove their chariots on that side!

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