President John F. Kennedy challenged the United States to put a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s, and the country’s space agency met his challenge with five months to go.
However, in 1971, NASA sent a remarkable piece of equipment into space with astronauts—the Lunar Rover—which was actually designed and built by General Motors.
Now, 46 years later, we can compare GM’s work on the all-electric Lunar Rover to that on its first long-range, affordable electric car, the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV.
GM was tasked with creating an electric drive system, suspension, mesh wire wheels, and a unique drive controller.
Much of what GM was asked to do what beyond the level of vehicle engineering seen before, which can also be said of the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV.
The 2017 Bolt EV was the first affordable electric car to reach mass production.
Chevrolet’s Bolt EV starts at $37,495 before federal tax credits and boasts an EPA-estimated 238-mile range.
That is the highest electric range of any EV in production under $40,000: the $35,000 Tesla Model 3 with the base battery pack that goes into production later this year is rated at 220 miles.
(We don’t, however, have range ratings or prices yet for the 2018 Nissan Leaf that will be revealed to the world in three weeks.)
Like the Lunar Rover, the Bolt EV tapped the wealth of engineering knowledge inside GM—but it’s safe to say the industry has come a long way since 1971.
The 10-foot-long Lunar Rover had four electric motors, each producing 0.25 horsepower; it could go 8.7 mph and it offered 4.6 cubic feet of cargo space.
Today, the Bolt EV’s motor is rated at 150 kilowatts (200 hp), it can reach 92 mph, and has up to 56.6 cubic-feet of cargo.
As for range, the Lunar Rover isn’t too shabby even by today’s standard; the vehicle could travel 57 miles before needing to be recharged.
The moon vehicle did have a couple of tricks the Bolt EV can’t boast: both the front and rear wheels steered, and it folded in half for storage in the capsule that carried it to its destination from Planet Earth.
We also noted one inaccuracy on GM’s infographic, above: it says the Lunar Rover’s battery is “air-cooled,” but the moon doesn’t actually have air.
One significant piece of information to take away, however, may be how much each of these electric vehicles cost.
The single Lunar Rover cost NASA, its buyer, $38 million.
But that $38 million in 1969 dollars is the equivalent of $253 million today, given the rates of inflation in the intervening half-century.
In other words, enough to purchase 6,750 Bolt EVs at the manufacturer’s suggested retail price for a base model.
GM, of course, won’t comment on the total cost of the Bolt EV development program or how many of the cars it expects to sell.
The parallel between the two very dissimilar electric cars, GM implies, is that electric vehicles are poised to bring mankind to a new frontier—just as the 20th-century moon missions did.
[hat tip: Brian Henderson]