GM’s Bolt EV cited for NZ sale

Holden wants to rejoin the electric car game – and it has a plan that’s straight out of left field.
Monday November 13, 2017

By Richard Bosselman

OPENING up the rules regarding sale of brand new cars in left-hand-drive configuration is being proposed as a way of allowing New Zealanders opportunity to experience more latest electric vehicles.

Loosening of the special enthusiast vehicles regulations, which presently operate as an permit allocation that allows just several hundred cars per year and is always oversubscribed, has been suggested by Holden New Zealand’s managing director.

 Kristian Aquilina sees it as a great way of allowing Holden to present GM’s latest and best electric car, the Bolt, to a Kiwi audience, initially for demonstration but ultimately – if the demand was proven – for sale.

The small hatchback is produced in North America and sold there as a Chevrolet, but is yet to be exported further afield and is not expected to be built in right-hand-drive.

But Aquilina has suggested he could have the model – a huge hit in its home market due to its modest pricing and exceptional, 400km range - here anyway, and would be happy to put it on sale with Holden servicing back up, if the Government relaxed the regs regarding sale of left-hand-drive cars.

“We’d like to sell them in left-hand-drive.”

And perhaps, where Bolt goes, others could follow – GM has indicated intention to have 20 new EVs in production by 2023, two within the next 18 months, all off the four-seater hatch’s superstructure – and all in left-hand-drive.

But it’s all wishful thinking unless Government changes the rules. He thinks there is reasonable chance of a review, given that the old National administration has started an ambitious plan to have thousands of EVs on our roads within a few years and because the new Labour-led coalition also seems to be positive about electrics.

He said the new car industry here saw EVs playing a bigger role “in our carpark in the future … as some of the costs associated with the production and running of the vehicles comes down.”

“One thing we (Holden) would like to talk to the Government about is opening up the opportunity to bring in small numbers of EVs in left-hand-drive to be able to at least demonstrate the vehicles, their capability and get consumers used to their absolute benefits.”

“General Motors has a strong stable of EVs on the way and in the pipeline, however the cost associated with making them right-hand-drive ready for small markets like New Zealand and Australia makes it pretty tough to bring them in.

“If EV advocacy is high on the agenda in the minds of the Government, we would like to certainly work with them and investigate to bring in a small number of cars to run on our roads.

“In fact we plan to bring in one or two Bolts to showcase what they can do – we’ve had some exemption from NZTA to do that. But to do that on a slightly bigger scale is not possible (under the regs). You can do it with left-hand-drive Camaros and Silverados but you can’t do it, as easily, with EVs.”

Aquilina says he would intend to show the car to enthusiast early adopters, both private buyers and companies, that have shown willingness to drive EVs. He was not dissuaded that the same base had let Holden down badly by clamouring for Holden’s last EV effort, the larger Volt, then snubbing it on arrival, to the point that the car was withdrawn.

However, he believes Bolt stands a better chance – EV interest is much higher, now, and the car itself is more attuned to local tastes.

Wouldn’t it be even better in right-hand-drive? He doesn’t disagree, but says that’s not going to happen in Bolt’s current generation.

“There’s no plan for a right-hand-drive Bolt in this generation … it’s going to be a longer term proposition when it comes to right-hand-drive EVs out of GM when we have the set-up that we have in this part of the world. It’s not encouraging in the same way as other parts of the world are.”

He said it would be a while, yet, before EVs were accepted as mainstream vehicles in NZ.

“In the meantime we’re going to be talking about enthusiasts and companies, particularly, wanting to trial and utilise these cars and also wanting to be among the first to have these types of vehicles.

“The good that comes of it is being able to get more of this kind of technology onto the road and in people’s hands to demonstrate what they are truly capable of. They are wonderful vehicles – they cost a bit, at the moment, but one day the cost will come down.

“In the meantime being able to get people familiar with the technology and the cars will only bode well for their future.”