A TIPPING POINT

You could be driving an electric car a lot sooner than you think

Obsession
Batteries
Obsession
Batteries

About this time next year, General Motors will start producing the Chevy Bolt EV, the first 200-miles-per-charge electric car priced in the mid-range market, at just under $30,000 after government rebates.

The implications of this are as important for mainstream car buyers as they are for Tesla CEO Elon Musk.

Musk, whose electric cars to date have been geared to the luxury market, has said he’ll unveil his own mid-priced Model 3 in March 2016 and have it ready for sale in 2017. But, given Musk’s record for tardiness—the recently released Model X was three years late, and the Model S was similarly unpunctual—the Bolt is on track to safely beat him.

Look now, however, for both Musk and other major carmakers—chiefly a scandal-weary Volkswagen, in addition to Ford, Nissan, and BMW—to pull out the stops to launch competing mainstream models in 2017. This would speed up the projected timetable for the coming boom in electrics, which previously had been expected to unfold mainly in the 2018-to-2020 timeframe.

The Bolt also moves the industry toward another, related tipping point, on cost. GM’s apparent first—a commercial electric with a battery at a $145-per-kilowatt-hour cost at the cell level—is an impressive one. GM has said that the Bolt’s battery supplier—South Korea’s LG Chem—should get the cost down to $100 per kilowatt hour by 2022. The company released this chart.

(GM)

With so many mainstream electrics coming on the market more or less simultaneously, the next few model years could mark the inflection point for electrics in transcending their green, feel-good niche, challenge gasoline, and becoming embraced by a wider swath of motorists.

GM executives say the Bolt will sell in the high $20,000s after government rebates, a price that will be hard for others to beat. In 2014, the average sale price paid for a new vehicle in the United States, including the gas-guzzling ones, was about $34,000.

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