The Sub-$30,000 Chevy Equinox EV Is America's Most Important Electric Car Since The Tesla Model Y

The Tesla Model Y wasn’t the first electric car sold in America. Hell, it wasn’t even the first Tesla. But the roomy electric crossover is, to date, the most important electric vehicle ever designed by an American company. As the first electric car here to offer more than 300 miles of range for less than $30,000, the Chevy Equinox EV will be a key piece of intel in determining if there’s more unrealized demand for electric cars when it goes on sale. It’ll also determine what kind of future General Motors will have.

Reviews for the new Equinox EV are embargoed until noon ET tomorrow and we’ll have one for you to read, written by the great Sam Abulesamid. I haven’t driven the car yet so I cannot say how it performs, but in 15 years of covering electric cars in the United States, I’ve scarcely seen a more important launch for a company.

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Everyone knows electric cars are too expensive. The Equinox EV promises to be in that magic sweet spot the industry hopes will appeal to buyers who have suddenly become hesitant to buy electric cars. It’s a compact two-row crossover, which is the segment with the most juice. The economical version set to launch later this year should cost under $28,000 and offer 319 miles of EPA estimated range.

Even the version launching this summer costs just $35,795 after an instantly-applied tax credit, making it the cheapest thing you can buy with more than 300 miles of range in the United States currently.

Why The Model Y Was So Important

Tesla Model YSource: Tesla

The GM EV-1 was the first modern quasi-production electric car sold by an automaker. General Motors abandoned the project, but it showed there was a future for electric cars. A decade later, the Nissan Leaf demonstrated that it was possible to mass produce an EV.

With the Tesla Roadster, the nascent company proved a startup could build a vehicle with more performance than what the traditional manufacturers could achieve. But the Roadster was scarcely a real car. It was a demonstration of what was to come in the form of the Model S, a mainstream luxury car with more than sufficient range. The Model S was a huge hit, eventually overtaking luxury sedans from Germany.

The Model X and the Model 3 would follow, but it’s the Model Y that is ultimately the most important Tesla built to date, and therefore the most important electric car. With the Model Y, Tesla showed off it could build a car for a broad audience at a lower price. Not only that, the Model Y revolutionized production techniques and basically showed the rest of the industry what was possible.

It also, arguably, set off a sprint by the rest of the automotive world to try and catch up. So far, only the Chinese are close, but the Tesla Model Y remains the best-selling car in the world. That’s a huge deal. The previous best-selling vehicle was the Toyota Corolla, which is a cheap global car with a million variants.

Tesla is also more than a brand. It is a lifestyle. It’s an environmental statement. It’s also the global standard for electric vehicles. Don’t believe me? In the first quarter of 2024, with numerous brands selling EVs, 1-in-3 electric cars sold in the United States were Tesla. The brand sold 96,729 Model Ys here in Q1, followed by the Model 3 in 2nd place at 30,842 units. The third most popular electric car in Q1 was the Ford Mustang Mach-E, which sold a whopping 9,589, or slightly less than 10% of Model Y sales.

Is there a market for that many non-Tesla EVs?

Why The Chevy Equinox EV Is Just As Important

2024 Chevrolet Equinox Ev 3lt 116

The Model Y is important because it was a success. The Equinox EV will be important as a success or as a flop.

As recently as June of 2021, GM said it would spend $35 billion on electric cars and autonomous vehicles. The investment in autonomous cars hasn’t worked out as of late, putting a lot of pressure on GM’s Ultium electric vehicle platform. So far the results have been mixed. Supply and production problems have delayed a full rollout of the Cadillac Lyriq, Chevy Blazer EV, Silverado RST, and GMC Hummer EV.

The Blazer EV may have been named the Motor Trend SUV Of The Year, but software issues sidelined the vehicle (and its platform cousin) for months. When the Blazer EV finally came back on sale the company had to lower the price to make it more competitive, albeit at a still-expensive $50k+ after incentives. We’ll get Q2 sales data in July, but the Blazer EV only moved 600 units in the first quarter, putting it essentially last among mainstream two-row electric crossovers. The Cadillac Lyriq is performing better, having sold 5,800 units over the same period, but that still lags vehicles like the Mustang Mach-E and Ioniq 5.

2024 Chevrolet Equinox Ev 3lt

While not quite as large, the attractive new Equinox EV will finally offer Tesla-like range at a sub-Tesla price. That’s key. When the sub-$30,000 model finally hits the market, it’ll be the first real affordable electric car with the magic 300+ range offering. While I think a more affordable Chevy Bolt is probably fine for most people, it’s a hatchback with semi-limited range and there are only so many people who will buy one.

I also think there’s a hard limit on the number of people who will purchase a Tesla. Some of that has to do with Tesla’s CEO, but I think a bigger potential factor is that are consumers who are going to be more comfortable buying a car from a more traditional brand. If the Equinox EV isn’t crap then I think it’s the best choice for people who are more interested in a long-established brand (at the same time, there are probably people who won’t buy it precisely because it’s from GM).

ImageGM’s Ultium platform

If the Equinox EV is successful, it will go a long way to show that there are still more buyers out there and the recent slowdown we’ve seen in the market has more to do with the types of electric cars we’ve got on sale and less to do with the idea of electric cars themselves. At the same time, it’ll justify GM’s big investment in Ultium and show that a non-Tesla company can build a lot of electric vehicles profitably and at scale.

If the inverse happens, well, then the inverse might be true. If Americans are unwilling to buy a relatively cheap and capable vehicle from a longstanding American brand then, well, the market is smaller than General Motors hoped. It’ll also possibly doom the Ultium platform as, so far, none of the other products GM has trotted out with Ultium have been smash hits and it’s too early to tell how the Ultium-based Honda Prologue is going to do.

Right now, Tesla Model Y sales have leveled off, but the car also hasn’t been significantly updated in a few years. The Equinox EV, in my opinion, looks better than the Model Y and offers an almost identical range for a lower price. It’s not going to be as fast, as technologically advanced, or as Tesla as the Model Y, but did I mention it’s going to be cheaper?

Assuming GM does what it needs to do to build and market the Equinox EV, this will be the first electric car for everyone else. It’s just a question of how big “everyone else” actually is.


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