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Image credit: AP Photo/Duane Burleson

Chevy starts manufacturing the Bolt

It's the first of a new generation of mainstream electric cars to reach factories.
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AP Photo/Duane Burleson

A new wave of affordable yet practical electric cars is finally reaching production lines. GM has started manufacturing the Chevy Bolt at a plant in Orion Township, Michigan, putting it on track to sell the $30,000 (after tax credits) EV in California and Oregon by the end of the year. It's not certain just who'll get first crack at the Bolt besides Lyft drivers (there are no reservations, as the AP notes), but it's safe to say that Chevy is beating Tesla to the punch -- the Model 3 doesn't enter production until mid-2017.

The Bolt probably won't be a strong seller, at least at first. IHS estimates that Chevy will move fewer than 30,000 Bolts in the first year, which is a pale shadow of Tesla's 400,000-plus pre-orders for the Model 3. It's a cautious step forward for a conventional automaker where Tesla, whose very business revolves around electric power, is jumping in with both feet.

However, it might just get the ball rolling for the electric car industry, at least in the US. Right now, your choices for EVs are generally split between long-ranged but relatively costly offerings (such as the BMW i3 or Tesla Model S) or affordable but range-limited machines like the Nissan Leaf. The Bolt changes all that. Its post-credit cost is less expensive than the typical $34,000 selling price for a new car in the US (according to Kelley Blue Book), but its 238-mile range is long enough that you shouldn't worry about it running out of energy during lengthy commutes. The biggest limitation is cross-country travel. While Tesla has its Supercharger network to power some long trips, it's harder to guarantee that you can drive coast-to-coast in other EVs.

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