Charging Forward in the EV Marketplace
AUSTINTOWN, Ohio – The pep from the small SUV is immediately noticeable as Jim Conlin, new-car sales manager at Greenwood Chevrolet in Austintown, presses the accelerator of a 2023 Chevy Bolt EUV.
“One of the great things about EVs is that you have instant torque,” Conlin says as he pulls out of the dealership parking lot. “There’s a lot of acceleration to it.”
The Bolt EUV is a slightly larger version of the Bolt EV, General Motors Co.’s entry-level electric vehicle. Last year, GM intimated that it would retire the Bolt. Sales of the small EV, however, have risen exponentially, causing GM to reverse its earlier position.
GM CEO Mary Barra recently announced that the automaker would continue to manufacture the Bolt, most likely using the Ultium battery platform. Currently, Bolt models use the BEV2 battery platform, an acronym for Battery Electric Vehicle 2.
Conlin says sales of the vehicle have jumped at the Austintown dealership and GM is looking for a lower cost vehicle that would introduce entry-level buyers to the EV market. “We’ve been doing very well selling Bolts,” he says.
The automaker has not released a date for the newly redesigned Bolt EV and EUV, Conlin notes. He’s hopeful, though, that the new models could be available within a year. “They’re saying that the process would be a lot faster since it’s not a complete redesign,” he says. “It’s more of a refresh, like a mid-cycle enhancement.”
This particular Bolt EUV is a fully loaded model, equipped with a power sunroof, a seven-speaker Bose sound system, and Super Cruise – a tool that keeps the vehicle in its proper lane and remains at a speed set by the driver. When Super Cruise is engaged, the driver is able to travel with his hands off the steering wheel.
“It will also keep the distance from the vehicle in front of me,” Conlin says. “If that vehicle would stop, then this one would stop as well.”
The vehicle can also detect whether the driver is paying enough attention to the road, Conlin says. “If I was to look away for an extended period time, the green light on the steering wheel would start to blink,” alerting the driver.
Should the driver not respond, then a red light on the steering wheel would trigger a warning, Conlin says. “Eventually, the vehicle will stop if I don’t keep my eyes on the road.”
And, at the flip of a switch, the rearview mirror also acts as a camera, displaying a panoramic rear view of the road or highway.
Most of these features come as options on a select lines of GM’s gas-powered vehicles, Conlin says. “All of the features that we’ve come to enjoy in gas-powered vehicles have transferred over to EVs.”
A single feature unique to EVs – aside from a battery pack instead of a gas tank and combustion engine – is one-pedal driving, made possible by regenerative braking systems found in EVs. A button activates the one-pedal system in the Bolt EUV; the driver simply takes his foot off the accelerator to slow the vehicle to a stop without touching the brake pedal.
“To get the most energy back into the battery while driving, it’s best to use one-pedal driving and use regenerative braking,” he advises. “That will give you the most energy return.”
For motorists who don’t want to use the regenerative braking feature and one-pedal driving, the Bolt functions just as any other gas-powered vehicle, Conlin says.
In July, Greenwood Chevrolet put the finishing touches on its first 120-kilowatt DC EV fast-charging station. “This charges vehicles at a much quicker pace” than the 19-kilowatt-chargers installed at Greenwood.
A DC fast charger is capable of fully charging a Chevy Bolt, for example, in approximately two hours, he notes. Other models, such as a new Chevy Blazer EV, could realize between 60 and 100 miles of range in 20 minutes. “That would take hours at a home charger.”
By 2025, GM plans to convert its vehicle charging connectors to conform to the North American Charging Standard, the same norm used by Tesla vehicles and chargers. “Currently, GM uses CCS, or Combined Charging Standard,” Conlin says. Beginning in 2024, GM will distribute adapter kits so that the GM current line of EVs can connect with Tesla and other North American Charging Standard EV chargers before the changeover.
As of now, the new charging station is not featured on apps such as PlugShare, which identifies locations of nearby charging hubs for travelers, Conlin says. That should change within a month. Moreover, the dealership has left room for the installation of additional fast chargers should demand intensify.
Still, some have already charged up at the dealership. “Just last week, we had a Bolt customer stop in and use it because he saw the charger,” he says.
Greenwood’s new charging hub – a private investment by the dealership – comes as Ohio begins to build out its electric vehicle infrastructure in anticipation of widespread EV adoption.
Breanna Badanes, spokeswoman for DriveOhio, the arm of the Ohio Department of Transportation that is overseeing the implementation of federally funded EV chargers throughout the state, says the first phase of these chargers should be operational by the first quarter of next year.
Ohio was the recipient of $140 million from the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure, or NEVI, program to construct new EV charging hubs. The first phase included 27 sites along Interstates 70, 71, 74, 75, 76, 77 and 90. None of the charging stations in the first round is in the Mahoning Valley.
“We’re also moving to put out a second request for proposal for the next round,” Badanes says, noting those should be out within the next two months. “The second round will have some remaining interstate locations but will also have some locations along major state and U.S. routes.”
The NEVI grant extends for five years, Badanes says, and the first round covered $18 million. “We know there will be three rounds, if not more.”
According to NEVI requirements, the initial charging stations are first mandated along federally designated alternate fuel corridors. “Once those have stations built out every 50 miles, then we’ll be able to use whatever remaining funding we have left to fill in gaps.”
Key to developing this network is alleviating “range anxiety” – that is, the fear of being stranded with little or no battery power without a charging station nearby.
Kevin Lawson, sales and leasing consultant and EV specialist at Greenwood, says range anxiety is the greatest obstacle to overcome for customers considering an electric vehicle. “It’s the biggest hurdle to jump over,” he states.
As of now, most EV buyers are using these vehicles for local travel and not extended trips, according to Lawson. “It’s often used as a second car for this reason,” he says. Charger accessibility remains in its infancy nationwide and many would-be EV owners have concerns over battery range. “It’s a huge factor. When I work with a customer, I make sure they understand the range.”
The Bolt EUV has a range of approximately 260 miles per charge, Lawson says. Achieving the maximum range usually depends on the length of the trip, speed, and how much energy the motorist uses during the drive.
The Bolt EUV displays three mileage scenarios, Lawson says. The first is the maximum range – that is the mileage a driver would receive without using any extra electronics such as the sound system, air conditioning or heated seats. A second is a mid-range reading, which is mileage attained through moderate use of the vehicle’s electronics and other amenities.
“Then, there’s a worst-case scenario,” he says, where the motorist drives at high speeds while blasting the AC and simultaneously engaging other features in the vehicle.
Installing a new fast charger at Greenwood – it’s the first such charger along Mahoning Avenue – also helps to expand the dealership’s market. For those who live in an apartment nearby that lacks a charger, for example, the new station at Greenwood allows EV owners to juice up.
“It’s a big investment,” Lawson says. “But we’re happy to be open-minded to this opportunity.”
The new charging station also demonstrates Greenwood’s commitment to the future of the automotive industry and consumer interests, Lawson says.
“It shows we’re serious about this,” Lawson says. “We’re ready for when it comes.”
Pictured at top: Greenwood Chevrolet’s new-car sales manager, Jim Conlin, demonstrates the dealership’s new fast-charging station.
EDITOR’S NOTE: On the Road to EVs is a quarterly series sponsored by Greenwood Chevrolet.
Copyright 2023 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.