As the first two so-called affordable long-range electric vehicles, it’s logical to think that the Chevrolet Bolt and Tesla Model 3 are battling for the same customers. But there are key distinctions that belie the notion of the two cars being in a sales race. For starters—as Forbes made clear this week—the Model 3 is a “sporty, somewhat pricey sedan,” while the Bolt is a “more practical crossover-like hatchback.”
Tesla buyers appear ready to spend more money and wait longer for a premium vehicle. In effect, the Model 3 is not available today—unless you are already on the waiting list. Consumers who are shopping for a car today would have to be willing to wait until 2019 for a new EV. That’s when Tesla recently said new orders for the Model 3 will likely be fulfilled.
Moreover, Tesla is currently building well-equipped, expensive versions of the Model 3—with a price tag that far exceeds its nominal $35,000 starting price. As you add desirable features to a Model 3, you could easily see the price approach or exceed $50,000.
The version of the Bolt that Consumer Reports recently tested was priced at $38,424. Consumer Reports last week named the Chevrolet Bolt as its “Top Pick” among small hybrids and electric cars. The magazine has not yet tested the Model 3.
By 2019, both Tesla and General Motors will probably reach the threshold of selling 200,000 electric vehicles—the point at which the $7,500 federal incentive starts to phase out. Tesla is on schedule to reach that period first.
Tesla Model 3s are likely to be in demand, with limited availability, for a couple more years. Meanwhile, inventory for the Bolt has moved up and down. Kelley Blue Book reported that, in January, Bolts were also in relatively short supply. There was only a 42-day supply—down from a 65-day supply in August. That supports the notion of the Bolt as a more practical, affordable, and readily available model because dealers are more likely to offer incentives when supply gets backed up. Buyers shouldn’t expect that for the Model 3.
The distinctions between the two vehicles don’t mean there won’t be defectors from Tesla to Chevy. Chevrolet dealer Yev Kaplinskiy said his dealership, located between San Francisco and Silicon Valley, sold 15 Bolts after Tesla’s latest announced delay. “We’re getting the Tesla people who wanted their Model 3,” Kaplinskiy told Forbes. “They want the car now. They don’t want to wait.” (It’s not uncommon for car buyers to make radical last-minute shifts in their purchase—for example, walking into a dealership with the idea of buying a compact vehicle but driving off with an SUV.)
Some observers might point to Tesla’s Supercharger network as an important advantage over the relatively sparse availability of Quick Chargers for the Bolt. But most EV drivers will tell you that almost all charging takes place at home—and that an electric car with the Bolt’s 238 miles of estimated range will almost never see a public charger. (Of course, there are the rare long-distance electric road-trippers.)
Despite the differences between the two vehicles and their buyers, we should expect relative sales of the Bolt and Model 3 to be closely monitored. Here’s the benchmark: General Motors sold 23,297 Bolts in the United States in 2017. Tesla said it globally delivered 1,550 Model 3 sedans in the fourth quarter of 2017, up from its first sales of 220 units in the third quarter.