Peter St. Onge

A month in a ‘revolutionary’ Chevy Bolt: Is it easy being green?

I’m driving what might be the first Chevrolet Bolt in North Carolina, and probably the first in Charlotte. It’s an electric car that won’t be available in our state until later this year, but I needed a vehicle to replace the well-seasoned Ford my 16-year-old is getting. So I ordered one from a Virginia dealer and picked it up last month.

You might have heard of the Bolt, but probably not. The clipboard guy in the Chevy commercials never brings it up, even though it was the 2017 Motor Trend Car of the Year. It’s an evolutionary, maybe revolutionary step for electric vehicles – a car with two to three times the range of other affordable EVs, but one that costs less than half the price of a Tesla.

Yet when I tell coworkers and friends about it, most every one of them frowns a little. That charging and recharging thing, they say. Too much hassle.

The thing is, they’re right. It’s not easy being green these days. But it’s not for the reasons they think.

First, a quickie review: The Bolt, which starts at less than $30,000 after a $7,500 federal tax credit, is flat out fun to drive. It has a nimble, smooth ride and more acceleration than any car I’ve owned. The technology is fun, too, with different driving modes to play with and a digital display that’s as big as an iPad, if you’re into that.

It’s also cheaper to own. EVs don’t need oil changes or other exhaust system maintenance, and electricity is much less expensive than gas. Plus, if you’re lucky enough to work at a place with free EV charging stations, as my wife and I do, you pay zero dollars in fuel costs.

And, of course, there’s the added benefit of contributing to your planet’s health.

In fact, the Bolt is such a pleasant experience that you can overlook some drawbacks. Its interior is a little too minimalist (including one weird non-feature I’ll write about later). The exterior? Let’s just say it’ll test how vain you are about the car you drive.

As for that battery: The Bolt officially gets 238 miles on a full charge, more than enough to drive around the city for days and not worry about recharging. (I see you frowning out there.)

Some longer trips are fine, too. A story: The Chevy salesman near Richmond, Va., was kind enough to bring the Bolt to me in Oxford, N.C., about a half-hour north of Durham. When I got the car, it had about 125 miles of charge left. I had 175 miles of driving left.

Hello, range anxiety.

Except, no. An app on my phone told me there were several fast-charging stations within 60 miles. My wife and I stopped at one, walked to dinner nearby, and came back to find more than enough miles of charge on the car to make it home.

Still, there are things about electric vehicles that are, yes, a hassle. And with Republicans running things in Washington and states like North Carolina, they won’t get easier anytime soon.

Some are small: While several states encourage EV purchases with rebates and tax incentives, North Carolina does the opposite with a $130 EV fee. I get the rationale – EV drivers are using the roads but not paying gas taxes, which help pay for road maintenance. But the fee illustrates how some states recognize the greater value of moving toward EVs, and some aren’t that interested.

The feds, right now, definitely don’t seem interested. A move toward EVs means a move away from the dirtier fuels that the Trump administration and Republicans in general embrace. Industry observers expect that the $7,500 federal tax credit for EV purchases will be gone soon. That will result in slower adoption of EVs, which will result in the slower growth of the fast-charging network that was supposed to make long EV trips hassle-free.

Free market folks will say that’s exactly as it should be – that government shouldn’t be picking winners and losers. But government already picks plenty of winners with incentives and tax breaks – including to oil and gas companies, by the way.

Why should this matter to you non-EV drivers? Because other countries are moving toward the future. Electric car sales have been surging in Europe, and even China has twice as many plants building EVs as the United States.

If our country stalls on electric vehicles, we not only hurt ourselves environmentally, but economically. It’s a lesson the U.S. – and U.S. carmakers – should have learned decades ago when we were flat-footed at the move toward fuel-efficient vehicles. That mistake nearly crippled carmakers here.

Does that mean I’m driving the future in my EV? I don’t know. It feels far off, but it feels like its coming. And it doesn’t have to be a hassle.

Peter: pstonge@charlotteobserver.com; @saintorange

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