General Motors On Tesla: We Don’t Need Pre-Orders To Bring Chevrolet Bolt EV to Market

Unless you’ve been asleep under a very large rock for the past week, you’ll know that the green car news has been chock full of information about the Tesla Model 3 electric car. Unveiled for the first time last week at an exclusive reveal event at Tesla Motors [NASDAQ:TSLA] design center in Hawthorne, California, the Tesla Model 3 is predicted to go on sale some time in late 2017 with a real-world range of around 215 miles per charge, a 0-60 mph time of under 6 seconds, and a starting price tag of $35,000 before incentives.

Since Tesla began accepting $1,000 (or local currency equivalent) in refundable pre-order deposits for Model 3 early on Thursday morning, more than 300,000 people worldwide have put their names down to buy one. And as we noted yesterday, while final specifications haven’t been tied down — and the cars we saw on Thursday evening were very much early alpha prototypes — nothing seems to be able to slow down the Tesla hype.

GM couldn't resist taking a dig at Tesla's reservation holder list.

GM couldn’t resist taking a dig at Tesla’s reservation holder list.

While you might think that some automakers would be threatened by the Tesla Model 3’s massive popularity, that doesn’t appear to be the case. Carlos Ghosn, CEO of Renault-Nissan, went on the record yesterday to hail the Model 3’s runaway success as being nothing but good news for all-electric cars. Now General Motors, whose upcoming 200-mile, 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV compact electric car is due to enter production this fall, has said it’s not worried about the Model 3 either.

Unlike Ghosn’s positive comments welcoming the Tesla Model 3 to the marketplace, GM’s take on the Model 3 is a little more adversarial and a whole lot more… snide.

GM has been fighting against Tesla's direct-to-customer sales model for years.

GM has been fighting against Tesla’s direct-to-customer sales model for years.

As Autobloggreen details, GM held a backgrounder event yesterday designed to explore the Chevrolet Bolt EV’s battery pack and drivetrain in more depth. At it, GM spokesperson Fred Ligouri made it clear how GM felt about the Model 3 and its popularity in the past week. Like Renault-Nissan, GM says mass-market interest into electric vehicles is a positive thing for everyone, but Ligouri couldn’t help make comment about the fact that Tesla was asking its customers to put money down on the Model 3 long before it enters production.

“We haven’t taken any [pre orders],” he said. “We don’t need [pre orders] to begin building our products.”

It’s a clear dig at Tesla which, despite showing working prototypes on Thursday last week, was showing early alpha engineering vehicles with plenty of not-yet-finished features. The unspoken but clearly inferrable undertone?  That Tesla can’t afford to pay for vehicle development — or convince investors to provide it the funds it needs to bring the Model 3 to market — without first gaining hundreds of thousands of interested would-be buyers.

“We’re really excited to offer [the Chevrolet Bolt EV] when it goes into retail production at the end of this year to those that have expressed interest and we’ll work through our great network of dealerships to get them to customers,” he continued.

While readers may view Ligouri’s comments as indicative of a company feeling threatened by a rival, we feel they more accurately represent the continuation of a strained relationship between GM and Tesla which has seen both companies trade insults with one another for an extended period of time.

If we ignore the anti-electric car comments made by GM back when the Chevrolet Volt first entered the market back in late 2010 (in which GM played on customer’s fears of running out of charge to justify using a range-extended rather than an all-electric drivetrain for the first-generation Volt), GM and Tesla have more recently fought bitterly about the way in which Tesla makes and sells its cars.

The Chevy Bolt and Tesla Model 3 are very different cars, despite their shared price point.

The Chevy Bolt and Tesla Model 3 are very different cars, despite their shared price point.

As a traditional automaker, GM manufacturers its cars then sells them through franchised third-party dealerships, a model which it has been following for decades. Tesla meanwhile, manufacturers and sells its cars direct to customers, cutting out the middleman altogether. And that’s upset both GM and the powerful auto dealer associations that represent thousands of franchised auto dealerships across the U.S.

To protect its own interests and the interests of its dealers, GM has even lobbied against Tesla in state legislature — and even courts — across the U.S., co authoring legislation designed to make Tesla’s direct-to-consumer sales model unwelcome in as many states as possible.

Even though the Chevrolet Bolt EV and Tesla Model 3 will retail for a similar price ($35,000 before incentives for the Model 3 and $35,00-$37,500 after incentives for the Bolt EV) GM has also worked hard to paint Tesla as the automaker focusing on out-of-reach luxury electric cars. Despite its higher price, GM has worked hard to market the Bolt EV as an all-American car for that everyday Americans can afford to drive.

It even decided to hold a photo shoot for the Bolt EV in downtown Palo Alto where Tesla’s HQ is based to drive the point home (and perhaps flip the bird Tesla’s way too).

Although some may argue that Tesla has the edge on GM in terms of customer interest and pre-orders, it’s fair to note that those choosing the Chevrolet Bolt EV will get their cars a lot faster than most Tesla Model 3 reservation holders will. Even if Tesla manages to dramatically increase factory production output, it’s likely that some customers — specifically those towards the end of the ever-increasing waiting list —  have another two (maybe even three) years of waiting ahead of them before their car rolls off a Tesla production line.

It’s also fair to argue however that those who wait for the Model 3 will likely find themselves with a long-distance car that is better suited to long-distance travel beyond the 200+ miles offered by its on-board battery pack. That’s because while Tesla has its rapidly expanding Supercharger network where customers can charge their cars (even if pricing for access for Model 3 customers hasn’t been officially confirmed by Tesla yet) GM has no such network, and doesn’t seem to believe that infrastructure development is part of its electric vehicle remit.

Given the ongoing spat between the two companies over their electric car strategies, it’s hardly surprising that GM has responded to the Model 3 the way in which it has, welcoming the competition while simultaneously availing itself of the opportunity to have a dig at Tesla’s overhyped launch at the same time.

But as we said yesterday, we’d prefer it if automakers focused on working together to drive electric vehicle adoption rather than dismissing each other’s efforts.

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