Chevrolet Bolt sells out in tech-savvy South Korea
GM Korea CEO James Kim introduces the Chevrolet Bolt at the Seoul auto show.
SEOUL — The new Chevrolet Bolt EV was unveiled to South Korean consumers only last week here at the Seoul Motor Show. But it is already getting a warm welcome in South Korea, where the car was designed and sources its key components.
General Motors Korea began taking Bolt orders on March 17 for an initial allotment of 400 vehicles. Those cars sold out in less than two hours, and by the end of the day, GM had received nearly 2,000 orders.
“It completely sold out,” GM Korea CEO James Kim said while unveiling the Bolt. “Next year, we will make an effort to prepare more Bolt EVs.”
GM hopes the Bolt gains traction in South Korea as customers here show increasing interest in green cars. Hyundai, the country’s best-selling brand, has an all-electric version of its Ioniq compact. Other carmakers, including Renault Samsung, BMW and Nissan, have entered the market as well with pure EVs. GM already sells the Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid here.
The technology resonates with tech-savvy South Koreans, said the Bolt’s chief engineer, Mike Lelli.
“People are drawn to things that are on the forefront of technology,” Lelli said of the local market. “The IT infrastructure is extremely strong here. It sort of lends itself to a technical car as well. I think that can help move this from those early adopters to mass ownership.”
The wedge-shaped Bolt has deep Korean roots.
GM tasked its South Korean design center with penning the Bolt in 2012. The car’s chief designer, Stuart Norris, took over as head of the design studio in 2015.
Its breakthrough battery technology was also developed by the Korean supplier LG Chem. It enabled the Bolt to offer a range of more than 200 miles on a full charge. LG Chem also manufactures the Bolt’s electric motor and drive unit in South Korea.
“I don’t know if I’d position it as a homecoming, because we worked so closely from the beginning, both in the United States and Korea,” Lelli said. “We’ve been together on this thing from the get-go.”
In South Korea, the Bolt is certified for a range of 383 kilometers, or 238 miles.
But in a recent trial drive, a team of EV enthusiasts drove one from Seoul to the southern end of South Korea, achieving a range of 292 miles on a single charge.
The Bolt EV stickers at 47.79 million won ($42,987) in South Korea, but the price drops below 30 million won ($26,985) after government subsidies.
GM Korea could use a boost.
Sales, including exports and domestic Korean sales, declined 1.7 percent to 92,208 units in the first two months of 2017 from a year earlier.
The Korean operation lost one of its reasons for being when headquarters decided in late 2013 to pull the plug on Chevrolet in Europe, which GM Korea’s assembly plants had been supplying. The plants accounted for as much as 20 percent of GM’s worldwide sales, and Chevy’s European retreat saddled GM Korea with excess capacity of 150,000 vehicles a year.
To offset slowing overseas shipments, GM Korea is trying to boost sales at home, where South Korean consumers are buying foreign brands at record levels.
The company recruited Kim from Microsoft Korea in June 2015 and named him CEO on Jan. 1, 2016. Last year, Kim said GM Korea was aiming for double-digit market share in Korea.
GM Korea’s all-time high market share was 10.7 percent in 2006.
As part of the push, GM Korea restructured its local dealer network to improve sales.
GM Korea sells the Spark, Aveo, Cruze, Malibu, Trax, Orlando, Captiva, Camaro, Impala and electrified vehicles such as the Volt and Bolt EV. Several offerings are locally built at GM Korea’s four assembly plants, including the Spark, Aveo, Cruze, Malibu, Trax, Orlando and Captiva.