Years ago, Tesla Motors (NASDAQ:TSLA) quipped that it would welcome electric vehicle competition with open arms, and that EV adoption by major automakers would only help the company toward its ambitious goals to disrupt the automotive industry's legacy internal combustion engine.
Even as Tesla's Model S has become the face of EVs and received high marks for its performance, the car was marked poorly for reliability, as problems with the drivetrain, body, and infotainment console became more common. Thus, the race was always going to be about whether Tesla could perfect its manufacturing before the major automakers, with their more impressive manufacturing capabilities, could perfect their EV strategy.
The race is certainly far from over, but General Motors (NYSE:GM) has made a significant push with its Chevrolet Bolt.
I see your 200-mile range and raise you 38
General Motors planned to deliver an affordable electric vehicle with 200 miles or more of range -- the threshold of range anxiety for consumers -- by the end of 2016. On Tuesday, it became clear that GM is on pace to achieve that goal, and with an EPA-estimated range of 238 miles to boot.
"Chevrolet showed the world the production-version Bolt EV earlier this year and in a few short months we've moved from that vision to a reality," said GM North America President Alan Batey in a press release. "The Bolt EV is a game-changer for the electric-car segment and it will start to become available at Chevrolet dealerships later this year."
For a price below $37,500, before an available federal tax credit of up to $7,500, it's a compelling product for consumers. However, it's not the Bolt that should have Tesla investors worried, as many believe -- it's what's probably coming next.
What General Motors has proved
GM has essentially proved that it's far removed from the short-sighted strategies that have plagued Detroit automakers in decades past. The company has made significant splashes recently in buying Cruise Automation and investing $500 million in ride-hailing company Lyft. But don't expect the Chevrolet Bolt to take on Tesla. Rather, expect the Bolt to be a critical factor for GM's transition into a smart-mobility company. Having a fleet of Bolts to use for its Maven smart mobility projects -- such as the Chicago Express Drive, which enables Lyft drivers to rent a Chevy Equinox for $99 per week -- or as a potential vessel for autonomous technology is a real, and very likely, scenario down the road.
What should concern Tesla investors is what GM does next. With the Bolt, GM has shown that it can design and produce a compelling EV. With recent redesigns such as the Malibu and Impala, it's shown that it can design popular sedans -- the 2014 Impala was the first Detroit-made vehicle to top Consumer Reports' large sedan ratings in 20 years. Expect these achievements to come together, sooner rather than later. Don't be surprised if GM combines its ability to create a compelling EV and much-improved sedan to steal the spotlight at a major U.S. auto show in a year or two with a sleek, sexy, and modern EV that is actually supposed to battle Tesla's high-end models.
With everything that General Motors has proved since the Great Recession, there should be little doubt that Detroit's largest automaker can deliver on such a product. The race is on, Tesla. I think you're about to have the competition you always hoped for.