General Motors (NYSE:GM) said that it delivered its first three Chevrolet Bolt EVs to paying customers on Tuesday, fulfilling a promise made by CEO Mary Barra that sales of the innovative electric car would begin by the end of 2016.

What GM said about the first Chevy Bolt sales

GM said that the first Bolts to be sold at retail were delivered to three customers at Fremont Chevrolet in Fremont, California. All three customers had previously owned hybrid or electric vehicles. 

Bobby Edmonds, William "Bill" Mattos, and Steve Henry became the first three customers to take delivery of new Chevrolet Bolt EVs in Fremont, California, on Tuesday. Image source: General Motors. 

One customer, who purchased a Bolt to replace a BMW i3, said that he was attracted to the electric Chevy by its range and technology, and by the fact that GM is an American company.

GM executives were understandably pleased. "All of the hard work that the Chevrolet team have put into designing, engineering and building the Bolt EV brings us to this truly satisfying moment of making the first deliveries to customers on time, as planned," said Alan Batey, president of GM North America and Chevrolet brand chief. "Chevrolet is proud to offer a vehicle like the Bolt EV, with ground-breaking technology wrapped in a modern design that is also fun to drive at an affordable price."

For now, GM is building and shipping only a small number of Chevy Bolts

GM is rolling its little electric crossover out slowly, currently building about 100 Bolts a day, according to an Automotive News report. 

GM's factory in Orion, Michigan is reportedly building about 100 Bolts a day. It has the capacity to ramp up significantly if demand is strong. Image source: General Motors. 

Shipments are ramping up, too. GM said that more Bolts are currently in transit to dealers in California and Oregon, set to arrive before the end of December. Dealers in a few other markets, including New York, Massachusetts, and Virginia, will receive their first Bolts sometime this winter. 

More will be rolled out in the spring, and GM expects the Bolt to be available at "Bolt EV-certified" Chevy dealers nationwide by about the middle of 2017.

GM has a window of opportunity to poach buyers from Tesla

The Bolt's price tag ($37,495 before a $7,500 federal tax credit) and range (EPA-estimated at 238 miles) have made it an appealing alternative to a high-priced Tesla Motors (NASDAQ:TSLA) Model S or Model X, at least on paper -- and put it a big step ahead of mass-market-priced electric vehicles from other automakers. 

But the Bolt -- by design -- is very different from the high-performing and sleekly styled Teslas. The Teslas were designed to compete head-to-head with German luxury cars, but the Bolt was created with ride-hailing and car-sharing duties in mind: It's essentially a 21st century taxicab. 

The Bolt is a fine choice for someone who wants an electric commuter car with good acceleration and a roomy back seat, but nobody will call it sexy like a Model S. 

That would put the Bolt at a disadvantage (at retail, at least) if Tesla had a car in the Bolt's price range. That car, the Tesla Model 3, is in development. Tesla hopes to have it in production by the end of 2017, though many analysts think mid- to late 2018 is more realistic. Either way, that gives GM a window of opportunity. 

The Bolt isn't a Tesla -- but unlike Tesla's upcoming "affordable" Model 3, it's available now. That gives GM a chance to poach some buyers from the Silicon Valley automaker.

One last thought: The location of the first Bolt EV sales was no accident

By the way, I don't think it was a coincidence that the first Bolts were delivered in Fremont, California. Tesla's factory is in Fremont, and I think GM enjoys giving its electric rival a poke in the eye. After all, GM did beat Tesla to market with an affordable long-range electric car. 

Don't get too offended, Tesla fans: GM has done this kind of thing with its crosstown Detroit rivals (and vice-versa) for decades. Extending it to Tesla is arguably a mark of respect. 

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.