The new year holds a lot of promise for auto manufacturers. With new 2023 models on their way to your local Chevy dealer—and supply chain issues clearing up after some trying years, there’s a lot to be hopeful about. There’s a sense of optimism in the air that’s almost—dare we say—electric, although that could have a lot to do with some recent news out of Detroit.
General Motors recently made a pledge to go all-electric by 2035, and Chevy will likely play a major role in that plan. The brand’s Bolt remains one of the most affordable EVs on the market, making the all-electric dream within reach for a wide swath of drivers. It also helps to pave the way toward a critical mass of EVs on the road. With a battery-related recall firmly in the rearview, an entirely new type of tire in development, and encouraging signs for a nationwide EV charging network, we thought it might be a good time to check in on the Bolt—and explore what the future might hold for Chevy’s flagship EV sedan.
Bolt Is Back On
Reports of the Bolt’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. Its future has been thrown into doubt as of late, owing to a battery recall that saw the automaker hit the pause button on production. But, with the investigation concluded and a fix in the works, the Bolt could go back into production as early as this spring. This is good news for both drivers and Chevy alike, as the automaker looks to keep pace with the increasingly electrified competition.
Production had been scaled back in recent months as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) looked into an issue with the Bolt’s lithium-ion battery. In rare cases, the battery was seen to catch on fire while charging or nearing the end of its charging cycle; an issue traced back not to Chevy itself, but rather the battery supplier, LG Energy Solution. The defect led Chevy to recall nearly 70,000 units—an expensive fix given that batteries are often the most expensive components of an EV (the Bolt’s 66 kWh pack rings in somewhere in the neighborhood of $11,000).
An internal investigation found that a torn anode tab and folded separator in the battery unit were found to be the culprits. LG was ordered to pay, shelling out some $1.8 billion to Chevy in retribution.
With the recall behind them, Chevy will replace all defective battery packs and implement a new design on forthcoming models. This is good news for Chevy’s parent company, GM. As one of the most affordable EVs on the market, the Bolt will play a major role in their EV plans. Their goal is admirable, if ambitious. But, with the industry and consumers alike slowly coming around to the myriad advantages of EVs, it’s encouraging to see a legacy automaker jump right into the fold.
“We see it increasing, and I think we’re actually getting close to a tipping point where consumers now are much more willing to consider an all-electric vehicle because they see the benefit,” GM CEO Mary Barra told NBC News, while giving a tour of the company’s $2.2 billion Factory Zero in Detroit. “We believe in climate change. It’s real. And so we know that transportation has a huge impact.”
GM’s commitment to EV production is buoyed by the recent announcement of the $7.5 billion National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI) Formula Program. Unveiled as part of President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the program will see the government invest in a nationwide network of 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations. The NEVI program will be focused largely on creating a strong network of charging stations along the nation’s highways, with the aim of developing what the administration calls Alternative Fuel Corridors. In addition, a forthcoming program will focus on stations in rural areas.
There’s currently no word on what form these charging stations will take, be it DC fast-charging stations that can dole out a full charge in 20 to 30 minutes—at a cost of $100,000 per unit—or slower, cheaper L2 chargers that only cost $6,000 but take a couple of hours to top off a battery. “The President’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will help us win the EV race by working with states, labor, and the private sector to deploy a historic nationwide charging network that will make EV charging accessible for more Americans,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.
Reinventing the Wheel (and Tire)
EVs, once the stuff of cheap sci-fi novels, are now a reality. But, if the ubiquity of all-electric offerings isn’t quite futuristic enough for you, Chevy has another trick up its sleeve. Within the next three to five years, the Bolt (or its successor) will see the debut of a new airless tire—currently in development by GM and Michelin.
The technology isn’t exactly new; Michelin has been testing its Unique Puncture-Proof Tire System (UPTIS) tires in partnership with GM since 2019, but the Bolt could provide the perfect coming-out party for the game-changing innovation. Tires have been one aspect of today’s vehicles that stubbornly refused modernization. Sure, there have been some innovations over the last century—synthetic rubber in the 1920s, radials in the ‘50s, and run-flat technology emerging in the ‘70s. But, compared to many other components seen on today’s vehicles, it’s downright old-fashioned. Airless tires aim to change all that by using modern technology and materials to address some of the chronic issues with this age-old invention.
Michelin’s UPTIS tire uses a system of central ribs made of rubber, which are then filled with resin-injected fiberglass. The tires will supposedly be easier to retread, leading to a longer life and reducing waste. While it could take a few years to see a final design emerge, drivers will either see an airless tire that can be fitted to existing wheels, or a tire/wheel combination (or “tweel”) that integrates both into one component.
Airless tires hold a number of advantages over their puffed-up counterparts. First off, they’re always at the correct “pressure” (or whatever the airless corollary would be), maximizing fuel efficiency and producing a smooth ride. They also can’t be punctured in the same way as traditional tires, making high-speed blowouts a thing of the past—and adding some valuable peace of mind to the driving experience. Lastly, but not least importantly, is the next-gen tire’s environmental impact. Extending tire lifespans and eschewing synthetic rubber compounds in favor of eco-friendly materials, this new breed of tires could be a decidedly greener alternative to the current options on the market.
Michelin already sells an airless option called the X Tweel for use on lawnmowers and ATVs, but street-legal vehicles represent a big step up in terms of engineering challenges. These existing X Tweels are limited to speeds of under 40 MPH, making them impractical for everyday driving. However, the recent announcement regarding airless tires on forthcoming Bolts would suggest that Michelin is currently innovating around this problem. The Chevy partnership is also encouraging about the price of future airless options. While the X Tweel for lawnmowers and ATVs currently cost around $600 each, the fact that such a technology is being considered for one of Chevy’s most affordable vehicles tells us they’ll likely become more affordable as their debut nears.
Bolt’s Exciting Future
With a nationwide charging network on the way, encouraging news about the Bolt’s development, and some intriguing new developments from Chevy and Michelin in the works, the future is looking bright for EVs. GM’s commitment to going all-electric could well prove to be a game-changer within the industry, and Chevy will certainly be central to that effort by continuing to provide affordable, reliable options like the Bolt. As the nationwide infrastructure for EVs continues to develop, the technology becomes more and more viable every day, quickly catching up to traditional gas-powered vehicles in terms of price and convenience. This begs the question: Why wouldn’t you go electric? The new tire project being developed in collaboration between Michelin and Chevy is another encouraging sign, as it proves that the Bolt is not a flash in the pan, but the wave of the future.