The Chevrolet Bolt EV concept crossover may be the second Australian designed and built concept car to debut at the 2015 Detroit auto show (the first was the Buick Avenir large sedan), but arguably it is the smaller model that is the most important.
That’s because where the Buick Avenir is not yet confirmed for production, the Bolt EV is – and it is expected to take local design cues into global production in what GM executives have described as their ‘moonshot’ electric vehicle even more important than the just updated Volt plug-in hybrid.
Head of exterior design Martin Love confirmed that an internal concept for the Bolt EV had been completed by the Korean design studios, but was handed to Port Melbourne in late 2013 to produce the vehicle that would ultimately be approved for the motor show floor about one year later. Meanwhile the US handled all the EV and cabin technology.
“There was another vehicle done that we built, that was designed in Korea, and when they said let’s do another one, basically the essence of the Korean design came but we took another shot at it,” Love told CarAdvice.
“There were quite a lot of changes, to the front end especially. It’s a completely new front end on the car [but] the upper and the basic profile and stance of the vehicles is very strongly influenced by the Korean design.”
Both Love and GM Australia design director Richard Ferlazzo said their aims with the Bolt EV were: to not create something that looked like a stereotypical electric vehicle; and to leverage the more efficient packaging provided by ditching an internal combustion engine to maximise interior space beyond what you’d expect from the dimensions.
“What we’re trying to do here is get a bit of a shift in the way these electric cars are designed,” Ferlazzo said.
“For me, for too long electric cars have looked like little science projects, ‘look at me, I’m electric’, they’re white, they’re blue, they’ve got skinny wheels and fragile sections and look super efficient.
“I think we’re beyond that now. This is more like a CUV [compact utility vehicle]. Consumers know what electric looks like, now it’s about how do you optimise the package of what an electric vehicle looks like to give me something that’s really practical.
“And people like these higher rides, these CUV more robust look. We can still maintain all the aero stuff – if you look at the wheels you’ll see it doesn’t have a trash can lid, it’s spoked but there’s little inserts that give it the flushness. The aero enablers are all over it, but it’s more about optimising the packaging," Ferlazzo said.
“It’s all about making it look lightweight on the inside, but muscular on the outside, so it’s not a little Noddy car.”
Love described the exterior design of the project as demonstrating "muscular form language, nice muscular guards and tight sinewy lines that tie everything together”; though he conceded the Bolt EV was largely designed from the outside in.
“The starting point for the exterior of this was about the interior,” Love said. “It’s about creating a small, compact car that had unexpected interior space.
“You can see it’s got quite a long wheelbase for a car of its size and quite short overhangs, and quite a wide stance, and that proportion was all about opening the door and going ‘wow, this thing’s quite big, it’s not a small car’.”
Asked whether the space efficiency provided by the concept, and the long wheelbase, could translate into production, Love replied: “Yeah, I don’t see any reason why not. Being an EV it opens up opportunities you’ve got compared with a standard petrol car.”
But Ferlazzo said Australia may “not necessarily” be involved in the transformation of the Bolt EV from concept to reality.
“I’m not saying it’s going to look like that, but GM is committed to producing a vehicle that looks like that,” he added.
“Where the Avenir, it’s a concept, there’s scope to build it; how will people will react to it? Is there a place in the market for a Buick flagship sedan?”