GM Looks to Close the EV Gap with Tesla

General Motors will introduce two electric vehicles at the North American International Auto Show.
GM Looks to Close the EV Gap with Tesla
A current-generation Chevy Volt electric vehicle go through assembly at the General Motors Detroit Hamtramck Assembly Plant in Hamtramck, Michigan. The company is set to reveal two new electric vehicles on Jan. 12, including a redesigned Volt. (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

General Motors Co. hopes to take a big slice of the electric vehicle market, currently dominated by Tesla Motors, with two new vehicles.

The company is set to unveil two new vehicles on Monday as part of the North American International Auto Show in Detroit—a new 2016 Chevrolet Volt and an all-new electric crossover called the Chevrolet Bolt.

GM had kept the Bolt concept under wraps for years but details leaked out ahead of this week’s auto show, as reported separately by the Wall Street Journal and the Detroit Free Press.

Will the Bolt Give a Jolt?

The Bolt will sit on an elevated platform in the shape of a crossover SUV, and boasts a range of 200 miles on electric power. The vehicle expects to arrive at showrooms in all 50 states—unlike Tesla, which is currently hamstrung by distribution obstacles—and will carry a price tag of around $30,000 after federal tax incentives.

It’s no surprise that GM is upping the ante in electric vehicles. When GM introduced the plug-in hybrid Chevrolet Volt in 2011, it had expected the vehicle to revolutionize the auto market. While the Volt was initially a hit and has a loyal following, it was slightly overpriced and never sold in staggering numbers. More recently, the Volt was overshadowed by Tesla Motors, which became a media and Wall Street darling.

Tesla sold 16,500 Model S luxury sedans in 2014 and 1,900 in December, according to estimates produced by Cowen & Co. That makes it the best-selling electric vehicle on the market. Tesla is currently working on a cheaper sedan, dubbed Model 3 that will sell for around $35,000.

The Bolt will arm GM with the necessary weaponry to combat Tesla now that Tesla is preparing to go down-market. The crossover design will have more cargo flexibility than the Volt, and its biggest feature will be an all-new battery supplied by South Korea’s LG Chem Ltd. claiming a range of more than 200 miles.

Compared to Tesla, GM will also have the benefit of a much bigger distribution network—Chevrolet’s—with locations in every state. Tesla’s store-type distribution model has encountered obstacles in a handful of states, including Texas, Michigan, and New Jersey.

A Redesigned Volt

GM will also unveil a newly redesigned Volt at the Detroit auto show. The company has been teasing the media for months, and unveiled it momentarily last week at the Consumer Electronics Expo in Las Vegas.

Chevrolet has not released any specifications for the new Volt, but from teaser photos the new car has a more sedan shape, which is a departure from the current generation hatchback.

Various auto enthusiast blogs reported that the Volt will use a new 1.5-liter gasoline engine as backup for the electric motor. The electric vehicle will also carry a bigger battery, perhaps the same one as the Bolt crossover.

There’s no question that GM is committed to putting itself on the map as an electric carmaker, and has Tesla in its sights. In a Bloomberg Businessweek report, former GM CEO Dan Akerson specifically named Tesla as the prime competitor.

“Akerson concedes that GM has failed to change the conversation about electric vehicles,” Bloomberg wrote.

“As Tesla’s market value began gaining ground earlier this year (2013) … Akerson took note. A special team was set up to study how Tesla might disrupt the industry.”