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Chevy Bolt charging in California. Photo by Kyle Field, CleanTechnica.

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Chevy Bolt’s Battery Issues Could Be A Blessing In Disguise For General Motors

When I read this brilliant article by Paul Fosse on why the new BYD Dolphin will convince millions to go electric, my first thought was, hmm, the Dolphin could actually be the new Corolla. The Toyota Corolla has been an unprecedented success because it is an affordable compact/subcompact car made for the masses. The Toyota Corolla is available all over the world and has been one of the top selling vehicles globally for decades. There really isn’t an electric version of this type of car yet — a vehicle that is produced en masse for the masses.

Over the past 10 years or so, a lot of new energy vehicle startups and legacy OEMs have followed the same formula of starting with top of the range ($50,000) electric vehicles and then moving slowly to develop lower priced versions. Sadly, Toyota is still trying really hard to prolong the age of ICE vehicles through its love for mild hybrids.

The blockbuster Wuling Hongguang Mini EV has kickstarted a new class of small and basic electric vehicles in China. In just one year, it has sold over 370,000 units. A lot of similar vehicles are starting to pop up in the Chinese sales charts, no doubt inspired by the Wuling, General Motors, and SAIC monster hit. But as Paul Fosse puts it, “the developed world isn’t ready for a car that basic and small. This Dolphin is similar in size to a Golf or Corolla and won’t scare buyers away because of its size.” The Dolphin starts from around $15,000 in China and it was already available to pre-order in China starting in August. BYD has already confirmed this model will be exported to a wider market. A right-hand drive version is also coming soon, with Australia expected to get the Dolphin early next year.

The entry level BYD Dolphin has a 70 kW motor, 180 Nm of torque, and a max speed of 150 km/h. It has a range of 301 km (NEDC). It is equipped with a 30.72 kWh LFP (LiFePO4). Its on-board charger is rated at 7 kW, and it also has fast charging: 40 kW (from 30 to 80% in 30 minutes). All of this for just $15,000. One of the main reasons for this very attractive price is the affordable and ultra-safe LFP “Blade” Battery from BYD.

This got me thinking. GM is having a tough time with the Chevy Bolt battery fire issues and it really should seriously consider using the Blade battery or another advanced LFP battery from CATL (Contemporary Amperex Technology Co. Limited) in an upgraded Chevy Bolt. This is something GM should be able to do very quickly and fairly easily. SAIC Motor and CATL have had a joint venture since 2017 and GM should ride on this, given its SAIC-GM-Wuling Automobile joint venture in China. This switch could quickly solve the battery fire issues and also help it open up a key market in the Toyota Corolla market segment. (For some background on how batteries catch fire, checkout this video from Electrified Veronika.)

People have been crying for a sub-$25,000 car, hence all the excitement around a proposed $25,000 Tesla Model 2 and also the proposed VW ID.2. The  VW ID.2 is sadly and quite disappointingly expected to arrive in 2025. The $25,000 Tesla is also expected around 2023, and with the global supply chain drama at the moment it could probably be widely available only in 2024.  There has been a rumor recently that Tesla was to add the Blade battery to some of its vehicles, but that rumor turns out to be not true (well at least not yet!).

General Motors could have a unique opportunity to take a lead in this sub-$25,000 market with a Blade battery of CATL LFP battery powered upgraded Chevy Bolt. LFP batteries are much cheaper than the Li-ion pack from LG Chem that is used in the current Bolt. The Blade battery could give GM options similar to what Tesla has done, where LFP packs are used in standard range models and other chemistries are used for the higher priced longer range models. By going for the Blade battery or CATL LFP battery now, GM will live up to the slogan  “a car for every purse and purpose” — in this case it will be the start of “an EV for every purse and purpose.” The 2021 Chevy Bolt starts from around $33,000, which is still quite a lot of money for a lot of people. A cheaper LFP-powered Bolt will definitely open up the EV market for a lot more folks.

Building on “an EV for every purse and purpose,” GM could also bring an even cheaper model, an international version of the new Baojun KiWi EV. The Baojun KiWi EV starts from about $10,000 in China. The Baojun KiWi EV has a 40 kW rear-mounted electric motor providing 150 Nm of torque. It has a 31.9 kWh lithium iron phosphate battery with an NEDC range of 305 km. It also has DC fast charging from 30% to 80% of its capacity within 1 hour. This KiWi EV could fill the void left by the Chevrolet Spark. The ICE version of the Chevrolet Spark used to be offered in several countries, including South Africa. South Africa, just like the rest of the world, really needs cheaper EVs right now to catalyze mass adoption. The Baojun KiWi EV could be another smash hit from SAIC-GM-Wuling (SGMW).

According to Autotrader’s 2021 Mid-Year Car Industry Report , over 50% of survey respondents said they were only willing to pay up to R300,000  ($20,000) for an electric car. GM pulled out of South Africa in 2017 to “allow GM to focus more money, engineering effort and senior management time on expanding where the company is strong, including China and the North American pickup and SUV business, where GM has a product onslaught coming.” GM should take advantage of its learnings from the success of the Wuling Mini EV in China and prepare for another “product onslaught,” this time in the sub-$20,000 EV market on a global scale. There is a huge untapped opportunity in this market. It is only a matter of time before a serious player takes advantage of this.

 
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Remeredzai Joseph Kuhudzai has been fascinated with batteries since he was in primary school. As part of his High School Physics class he had to choose an elective course. He picked the renewable energy course and he has been hooked ever since. At university he continued to explore materials with applications in the energy space and ending up doing a PhD involving the study of radiation damage in High Temperature Gas Cooled Nuclear Reactors. He has since transitioned to work in the Solar and Storage industry and his love for batteries has driven him to obsess about electric vehicles.

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