General Motors delivered the first three Chevrolet Bolt all-electric cars to customers on Tuesday, a milestone moment that occurred about three miles from Tesla’s massive electric vehicle factory in Fremont, Calif.
Nearly a year ago, General Motors CEO Mary Barra promised the automaker’s upcoming Chevrolet Bolt would be an affordable, connected electric vehicle built for everyone. It was a noteworthy remark—one she made during a keynote at CES, the annual consumer electronics show—largely because it showed GM was gunning for Tesla, the much smaller, but popular electric carmaker that has been seen as a leader in the space.
Officially, GM says it chose the location because “the Bay Area is one of the largest markets for the Chevy Electric family and Fremont Chevrolet (dealership) is the number one store for Volt sales this year, making it the perfect location for Bolt EV to make its debut.” The Chevrolet Volt—not to be confused with the Bolt—is a plug-in electric hybrid. GM delivered 21,048 Volts in the U.S. from January to November 2016, a 58.5% increase from the same period last year.
Still, the move is at risk of coming off as a marketing scheme aimed at generating as much attention as possible for its all-new electric vehicle.
“GM is obviously trolling Tesla with the Bolt delivery in Fremont, a year or more before Tesla will have its own car rolling out,” Gartner analyst Mike Ramsey told Fortune referring to the upcoming mass-market Model 3.”It’s curious, however, because GM, in a way, looks a bit desperate.”
“GM needs to get momentum with this car and take advantage of the one-year head start it has on Tesla,” Ramsey added.
GM is starting slowly, although the pace and geographic breadth of its deliveries should ramp up in early 2017. The automaker is only delivering the Bolt to the California and Oregon markets this month. Its national roll out starts in 2017 with the first Bolt deliveries beginning this winter in Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states such as New York, Massachusetts, and Virginia. Bolt EVs will arrive at more dealerships in additional major metro markets throughout the first half of 2017, the automaker says. The Bolt EV will be available at Bolt EV-certified dealerships across the United States in mid-2017.
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Tesla and GM have wildly different business models and portfolios. GM is a global giant that reported sales of 9.8 million vehicles worldwide in 2015. Tesla is tiny by comparison. The company delivered 50,580 vehicles in 2015. Yet Tesla has proven to be a leader in the electric vehicle and luxury market. The Model S has been the top-selling luxury sedan in the U.S, beating out individual models from Audi, Mercedes, and Lexus.
Now, GM and Tesla are in direct competition—or should be by the end of next year—to dominate the mass market electric car space.
Each vehicle has different strengths. The Chevy Bolt is more expensive than the base price of the Model 3—$37,495 versus $35,000. However, GM’s car will be available a year before Tesla’s. The Model 3 isn’t expect to be shipped until late 2017. Both electric cars should be eligible for government clean energy incentives of up to $7,500.
The Chevy Bolt also has a longer range. GM says the Bolt will get 238 miles on a single charge, greater range than it initially promised and 10% more than the 215 miles that Tesla says the Model 3 will have. It’s possible that the Model 3 will have greater range by the time deliveries begin.
Meanwhile, Tesla has developed a large following of true believers and reservations for its Model 3 have surpassed 400,000.
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Earlier this month, Tesla opened a showroom in Michigan, home to the Big Three U.S. automakers and where it is banned from selling its all-electric vehicles. The small showroom, located within a Nordstrom department store in Troy, Mich., only displays the vehicles. Tesla employees can talk about the vehicles but they cannot discuss the cost of the car. They must instead direct customers to the website or a store in a neighboring state for more information. Tesla sells its own cars directly online and through its own branded stores, not through franchised dealerships. Some states, including Michigan have passed laws that ban direct sales.