The company that ‘killed the electric car’ squares off against the upstart it inspired.
General Motors is moving up the national debut of its Bolt electric car to August, a month earlier than originally planned in what may be a counter move to Tesla starting to ship its rival Model 3 vehicle this summer.
The first Model 3 should roll off the assembly line in July, but with nearly 400,000 reservations made, new orders placed now won’t be fulfilled until mid-2018. That means the well-reviewed Bolt could benefit from spillover demand for the much-anticipated Model 3.
Both vehicles have a range of over 200 miles and a price of about $35,000 after tax credits.
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A GM representative speaking to Automotive News said the rollout was moved up because GM was ahead of schedule on staff training and inventory for the new electric vehicle. The Bolt was first released in California and Oregon in December of 2016, and expanded to another six states by April. Even in those limited markets, demand for the Bolt has occasionally outstripped supply.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk seems to have noticed GM’s decision, and took to Twitter to point out an irony—that part of his inspiration for starting Tesla was GM’s 2002 decision to end its own groundbreaking electric vehicle program.
The GM vehicle in question was the EV-1, whose death was the subject of the 2006 documentary Who Killed the Electric Car? GM was able to recall EV-1s from customers because the cars were leased rather than sold outright, and dramatic footage in the film showed the cars crushed and piled in junkyards.
The EV-1, though technologically groundbreaking, was at the time seen as simply unprofitable, and its end was met with outrage from environmentalists. But Tesla’s subsequent success has revealed it as much more than a PR blunder—GM relinquished a huge technology lead in a segment that’s increasingly hot.
For comparison, GM reportedly produced just over 1,000 EV-1s over five years, but has sold around 1,000 Bolts per month in its limited initial markets. The overall EV market has expanded steadily, with some studies saying 740,000 could be sold annually by 2024.
In perhaps the biggest twist of all, Tesla’s market capitalization pushed past GM’s in April, and the lead has expanded in the months since. Rick Wagoner, GM CEO from 2000-2009, has said ending the EV-1 program and not devoting more resources do developing gas-electric hybrids were his biggest mistakes in a tenure that had plenty to choose from.