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General Motors Takes on Tesla

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#1 Hum

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Posted 18 September 2013 - 14:14

It may seem laughable to the cutting-edge technologists in Silicon Valley, but the biggest threat to the Valley’s beloved and revolutionary carmaker — Tesla — just might be doddering old General Motors.

Tesla, of course, is a media and stock-market darling. Against long odds, the upstart company headed by entrepreneur Elon Musk has created two gorgeous electric cars, the Roadster and Model S, that have seduced drivers with a suave blend of engineering, performance and novelty. While other upstarts, such as Fisker — and even some long-established carmakers, such as Saab — have failed during the past few years, Tesla (TSLA) has thrived. Its stock is up nearly 400% this year, prompting even Musk to say it seems overvalued.

So it’s easy to dismiss GM’s claim that it plans to develop batteries that will be able to move a car 200 miles on one charge, at a cost of $30,000 or so — close to the range of the Model S, at less than half the cost. GM’s most prominent electric car, of course, is the Chevy Volt, which can travel about 35 miles on one charge, starts at $34,000, and is approximately as exciting as a minivan.

GM launched the Volt in 2010 amid a huge hype campaign that ended up making the car seem like a failure. GM badly missed initial sales targets and has since resorted to discounting to keep Volts moving off the lot. It hardly helps that GM took a huge government bailout in 2009, leading critics to deride the Volt as a foolish government science experiment.

GM can be a formidable competitor, however, when it funnels its resources into focused projects. And it has two big advantages over Tesla. The first is scale, which is vital to profitability in the car business. Since the costs of designing and manufacturing a given automobile are huge, it’s essential to be able to spread them across the largest possible sales base. Like other big automakers, GM can develop technology for one car that it uses in a dozen different models or more. Tesla’s tiny product lineup doesn’t allow for that, which is one reason it's lost money five years in a row, and only recently turned its first quarterly profit.

GM also has proprietary battery technology that could turn out to be a game-changer if the automaker can manage to get costs down and range up. Unlike Tesla, which relies on off-the-shelf battery technology it harnesses in a unique way for automobiles, GM has been working to develop breakthrough batteries since it launched the doomed EV-1 project in the 1990s. It hasn’t quite succeeded, needless to say, but GM has the deep pockets and staying power to keep nursing the technology until it matures.

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#2 Growled

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Posted 18 September 2013 - 15:01

Tesla is cool and all, but we need a company like GM to push electric for it to be the next big thing. Only one of the big companies has the resources and marketing to do it.



#3 jkenn99

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Posted 18 September 2013 - 15:18

GM has the money and the technology to have a Tesla-killer today, but they will continue keeping it "just a few years away" until there is actually a good business reason for them to release it (such as Tesla actually becoming a legitimate competitor). There is a way better business reason for them not to: the governments will keep giving them more money.



#4 Xilo

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Posted 18 September 2013 - 15:20

Tesla is cool and all, but we need a company like GM to push electric for it to be the next big thing. Only one of the big companies has the resources and marketing to do it.

Problem with electrical is that they aren't very practical, especially if it's the persons only car.



#5 Aheer.R.S.

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Posted 18 September 2013 - 15:23

Problem with electrical is that they aren't very practical, especially if it's the persons only car.

Agreed, electric cars need to become more affordable, and range needs improvement too, at least in some respect it would become the commute vehicle if those issues were addressed, freeing up the family car for the days the electric car is charging, going for social drives, visits and so on



#6 Growled

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Posted 18 September 2013 - 15:25

Problem with electrical is that they aren't very practical, especially if it's the persons only car.

 

Not yet, but that problem might eventually get solved. That's just one of the many problems with electric cars and why you need a huge backer like GM to solve them.



#7 AR556

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Posted 18 September 2013 - 15:27

Tesla is cool and all, but we need a company like GM to push electric for it to be the next big thing. Only one of the big companies has the resources and marketing to do it.

And if they run out of money due to mismanagement, they can always count on the taxpayer to bail them out.



#8 Astra.Xtreme

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Posted 18 September 2013 - 15:30

Even if they get past the range and price hurdles, the next problem will be how the power grids will handle everybody having one.  My guess is that it will cause huge problems in populated areas.  Then also, what do we do with the dead batteries?

 

Personally I still think that Hydrogen is the tech we should be putting our R&D towards.



#9 Aheer.R.S.

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Posted 18 September 2013 - 15:38

Even if they get past the range and price hurdles, the next problem will be how the power grids will handle everybody having one.  My guess is that it will cause huge problems in populated areas.  Then also, what do we do with the dead batteries?

 

Personally I still think that Hydrogen is the tech we should be putting our R&D towards.

Good point, I forgot about that, like that Honda FCX Clarity (or whatever it was called)

(Y)



#10 Astra.Xtreme

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Posted 18 September 2013 - 16:00

Good point, I forgot about that, like that Honda FCX Clarity (or whatever it was called)

(Y)

Wow that thing is ugly, haha.  But yeah, there are some hydrogen fuel-cell cars out there that don't get much media attention. Mercedes and BMW have also had models for a few years now.  The biggest problem is that special fuel stations need to be built for these cars to ever have a chance.

 

Looks like Toyota has something interesting being developed:

http://green.autoblo...300-mile-range/



#11 Bertch

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Posted 18 September 2013 - 16:06

10 years ago I was at Disney World when they first introduced the GM test track ride.  At the end of the ride they had a new proof of concept of an electric car where the battery was the frame and most of the cost and then you could then interchange the top half so you could have a sports car normally but then swap to an SUV model if you wanted more space etc.



#12 tsupersonic

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Posted 18 September 2013 - 19:22

I read a similar article. I personally think GM isn't capable of producing a nice looking car that will deliver efficiency that people will actually want to drive (case: Volt). They do make some nice cars, but I think Tesla will always be ahead of GM and other competitors when it comes to electric vehicles. I do like seeing competition amongst companies, so it'll be interesting to see whatever GM produces. 



#13 wv@gt

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Posted 18 September 2013 - 19:38

I'm hoping GM puts in some good research on the "green side" of making electric cars. Right now electrics make the end user feel like they are using a green vehicle however, its the manufacturing of the batteries that's the killer. If they can figure out a good "green" way to make batteries and also deal with the recycling aspect that will be a big hurdle. The other issue with electrics is that even if GM can achieve the 200 mile range they are going for it still changes our dynamics for driving long distances. A fill up that once took 5 minutes now could take a few hours or longer and this implies that rural areas will have charging stations. Electrics are great for commuting to and from work or around town, but long distances is the bigger issue. I don't want a solution like BMW which is to swap your car for a loaner gas option for the trip. 



#14 Frogboy

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Posted 06 October 2013 - 22:28

I really like Tesla but my Chevy Volt is my go-to vehicle.



#15 remixedcat

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Posted 06 October 2013 - 23:34

We really need more affordable all-electric cars.