Going Electric: Part 2

Bolt EV Tail Light and Badge

In my previous post, Going Electric: Part 1, I covered how I decided to buy a Chevy Bolt EV and followed the process through signing the order and making the deposit on August 4, 2018. I was told to expect the car in 6 to 8 weeks.

If you order anything these days, it’s trivial to track it. Even the smallest order at Amazon, for example, includes more tracking information than you could need. You can find out whether it’s in stock, packed, shipped, and even see maps of the current location or find out how many stops away the UPS truck is. You can get automated texts and emails at every state of the process. Well, not so when you order a car, at least from GM. They have very limited tracking information. You can contact the dealer and ask them. You can go to the chevy.com website, start a support chat session and after providing phone name, number, email, and street address, you can chat with a person who might be able to get a scrap of information.

Buzz Smith at Classic has partially overcome this problem with a homegrown web page that tracks Bolt EV orders at the dealership. The information comes from their internal dealer connection to the GM network. So starting on August 4, I was checking that page daily for status updates and at first things looked great. The order entered the system on August 6 and my vehicle was assigned a build date of September 3 at GM’s Orion Assembly Plant. Surprisingly, things moved fast at this point and they got started early. The order entered production control on August 16, was “scheduled” on August 21, and the build process started on August 23. By August 31, the car was finished.

One of Several Parking Lots at the Toledo, Ohio Intermodal Facility

On September 1, my Bolt was listed as “in transit to Ohio” and I started getting excited that it was going to arrive sooner than expected. It seems to have arrived in Ohio on September 6. We’re talking here about the intermodal facility in Toledo, Ohio where vehicles from car manufacturers in Detroit are staged for CSX rail shipment all over the country. They arrive on trucks and move through huge parking lot queues to get onto railcars for shipment.

A week later, the status was “Awaiting shipment in Ohio”. Another week later, it was still awaiting shipment. And another week later the same. At the beginning of October, I began to get a little worried and started doing some research. I ran across a news article that said there is an on-going shortage of Autorack railcars for automotive transportation. This article talked about the growing backlogs of cars building up in intermodal facilities and had a chart listing the average time between ordering and arrival at the dealer for a variety of car models. The Bolt EV is on the list at 72-130 days, almost all of which is spent sitting in a parking lot in Ohio.

You may recall around this same time that Elon Musk tweeted several times about going from “production hell” to “delivery logistics hell” on the Tesla Model 3. This was due to the same sort of car carrier shortages afflicting GM’s deliveries of the Bolt EV.

What’s telling here is comparing the response of GM to Telsa. GM did nothing. Telsa, as indicated in the tweets, began putting together their own delivery system including building carriers, buying trucking companies, and securing long-term contracts with other shipping companies. So Tesla Model 3s kept reaching customers and by November were arriving in weeks rather than months. Meanwhile, I continued to check my Bolt EV’s status and it continued to say “Awaiting shipment in Ohio”.

When November arrived, GM kicked off a 0% interest loan deal on Bolt EVs, which was an incentive I had hoped would be available by the time my car arrived. But now I was worried the deal would expire before I could take delivery. I was also working against the clock for the Texas $2500 incentive, which comes from a fixed amount of state funding. Once they’ve used it up there are no more incentive checks. And, of course, the Federal $7500 incentive is not a check but a tax credit, so if I didn’t get the car before Dec 31, it would be another year before I could claim the tax credit. Making my budget work depended on all those incentives.

CSX Train Pulling Autoracks Through Kansas
CC-BY photo credit: Flickr user Tyler Silvest

The first, second, and third weeks of November passed with no change in status. My Bolt was still parked in Toledo. I really didn’t want to miss the 0% financing deal, so I decided to talk to the dealer about making the final purchase before taking delivery. It turned out several of their other Bolt EV buyers were getting a bit desperate too, so Classic had decided to do what GM wouldn’t and hire a transport service. They paid for a conventional auto carrier truck to pick up the Bolt EVs in Toledo and drive them down to Classic Chevrolet. So I visited the dealer on Saturday, Nov 24, signed the contract, made a down payment and traded in my old car. I got the 0% financing deal with a few days to spare. The truck was supposed to arrive in Dallas Tuesday, so I would only need rides to work for a couple of days.

Murphy’s Law was not done with me yet though. Classic confirmed the truck left Toledo loaded with Bolts. They confirmed my Bolt EV’s status was now “In transit to TX”. A few days later the truck arrived but my Bolt was not on it! It took several days to find it. Apparently a rail car to Dallas became available the same day the truck was picking up the Bolts. My Bolt got put on the train rather than the truck. Ohio to Dallas by train takes about two weeks vs two days on a truck. My Bolt was passing through Salem, Il that Saturday, Dec 1. My wife patiently drove me to and from work the next week as we waited on my car’s slow progress along the rail line.

A Section of the Mesquite, TX Intermodal Facility

Saturday, Dec 8, it arrived at the intermodal facility in Mesquite, TX. Rather than wait another week for GM to get it from Mesquite to Classic Chevrolet in Grapevine, the dealer scheduled their own truck to pick it up. It took another couple of days to prep the car at the dealer because I had options like black bowties and window tinting. I finally got the call to come pick it up on Thursday, Dec 13, which was coincidentally my birthday. So a grand total of 129 days passed from the day I placed the order until the day I drove it off the lot (one day less than the worst-case prediction in the news article I mentioned earlier).

Susan’s photo of the new Bolt EV the night we picked it up at Classic Chevrolet

I’ve been driving the Bolt EV for a while now, so I’m planning to do one more post on it in the near future; something like a 1000+ mile review.