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Why killing the Chevy Bolt was the right move for GM — but it still hurts

General Motors said it will end production of the Chevy Bolt electric vehicle at the end of the year.Justin Sullivan/Getty

The Chevrolet Bolt electric sedan, the most affordable EV on the market in the US, had its highest sales ever in the first quarter. But General Motors this week announced it is discontinuing the $27,000 EV at the end of the year.

Why is GM killing the Bolt?

The automaker said it has new, more appealing EVs coming out this year starting at almost the same price point as the Bolt, which was introduced in 2016. The upcoming Chevy Equinox EV will offer more interior space, longer travel range, and sell for about $30,000. And, like the Bolt, it will qualify for the full $7,500 federal tax credit.

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Ditching the Bolt also means escaping the EV’s troubled history, with two major recalls in the past three years due to the risk of batteries catching fire. Thousands of Bolts had to have their entire battery packs replaced because of manufacturing defects.

“The Bolt has had a lot of issues, so it’s not that shocking to see this decision being made,” said John Helveston, a professor at George Washington University who studies the transition to more sustainable vehicles. “EVs are a rapidly changing technology. ... Apple doesn’t sell the iPhone 5 anymore.”

One of the biggest upgrades between the Bolt and GM’s new lineup, including the Equinox, is the more advanced battery technology that’s part of the company’s Ultium platform.

The Bolt’s maximum range as estimated by the EPA was 259 miles. The new Equinox EV is expected to go 300 miles, an electric Blazer SUV will have a range of 320 miles, and a Silverado EV pickup truck will max out at 400 miles of range, GM said.

Almost as important, the new vehicles will be capable of charging far more quickly at DC fast chargers than the Bolt. That’s critical for longer trips when an EV can’t be charged overnight at home. The Bolt takes more than an hour of charging to gain 200 miles of range, while the newer EVs with Ultium batteries should take less than 30 minutes on the most capable DC fast chargers.

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But the shift at GM and other automakers continues the move away from smaller and more efficient vehicles to larger cars and trucks, and that raises other concerns.

“The Bolt was pretty unique in the EV market as a great subcompact car,” said Laura Davis, a transportation advocate with MassPIRG and a former owner of a Bolt herself. “Once it’s gone, people will have to size up to a larger vehicle to get comparable range, and that’s a disappointment.”

Larger vehicles, regardless of whether they are powered by gas or electricity, require more energy to operate, wear down roads more quickly, and pose a greater hazard to pedestrians, cyclists, and other vehicles, she said.

“The lack of consumer choice is a significant problem when it comes to [EV] adoption,” Davis said. “Not everybody wants a huge car.”


Aaron Pressman can be reached at aaron.pressman@globe.com. Follow him @ampressman.