Sales of General Motors' All-Electric Bolt Are Still Low

By Daniel Sparks Markets Fool.com

With an all-electric driving range on a single charge of 238 miles, General Motors' (NYSE: GM) $37,500 Chevrolet Bolt is frequently referred to as a key competitor to electric-car maker Tesla (NASDAQ: TSLA). But despite having five months to ramp up sales, monthly sales volume is still notably low -- even compared to deliveries of Tesla's much more expensive Model S.

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But investors shouldn't give up on the Bolt's growth potential yet. Management has indicated the second half of 2017 is when the vehicle's rollout will really kick it up a notch.

Chevrolet Bolt. Image source: Chevrolet.

April Bolt deliveries: 1,292

Reversing General Motors' pullback in Bolt deliveries in February and March, Bolt sales notched higher in April to a record 1,292 units, up from 978 units in March and above a previous monthly high of 1,162 units in January.

These sales are particularly low when compared to sales of Tesla's far more expensive electric sedan. In Tesla's most recent quarter, Tesla delivered 13,450 Model S cars, averaging about 4,500 units a month even though the vehicle has a starting price of about $70,000 and can cost as much as $171,300 after optional upgrades.

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To be fair, Tesla has had since the Model S' launch in 2012 to ramp up production of the vehicle. In addition, the Model S is available in far more markets than the Bolt. Through April, the Bolt's availability was limited to California, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Virginia, and Washington.

In coming months, Chevrolet plans to bring the Bolt to the following markets:

  • May: Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont
  • July: Arizona, Florida, Illinois, Philadelphia
  • August: Texas
  • September: Nationwide

It's also worth noting that Chevrolet has indicated from the start that Bolt sales aren't expected to pick up until the second half of 2017. So, low Bolt sales five months into the vehicle's availability may not necessarily reflect underwhelming demand for the electric vehicle.

Could Tesla's Model 3 pressure Bolt sales in 2017?

Though General Motors' Bolt sales to date might be going according to the auto giant's plan, there could be one major hiccup to the vehicle's expected sales jump in the second half of the year: Tesla plans to launch its $35,000 Model 3 in July -- a launch that will bring along with it an unveiling event in which Tesla will finally share details on the new vehicle.

Model 3. Image source: Tesla.

Up until now, Tesla has done very little to market its upcoming Model 3. Despite that, Tesla has generated around 400,000 deposit-backed reservations for it. And as of the company's most recent update on demand for the vehicle, former Tesla CFO Jason Wheeler said in Tesla's February earnings call that demand for the vehicle is "still in great shape" and that Tesla doesn't "want to make the line longer." Even more, CEO Elon Musk noted in the same call that Tesla continues to "anti-sell" the Model 3, pushing interested buyers toward its Model S and Model X.

With so much customer interest in Model 3 ahead of Tesla's launch, it's possible that when the vehicle's deliveries begin, demand for the Bolt could be limited.

General Motors executives have indicated they expect Bolt deliveries in 2017 to reach around 25,000 to 30,000 units, according to Reuters. And GM Manager of Electrification Technology Communications Kevin Kelly has even said that the company could likely fill orders for up to 50,000 customers if demand reached that high during the year.

With Bolt deliveries remaining low in April, and the Model 3's launch just around the corner, does the Bolt still have a shot at gaining sales momentum this year?

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Daniel Sparks owns shares of Tesla. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Tesla. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.