The Terra News

How Did G.M. Create Tesla’s Dream Car First?


Farhad Manjoo

STATE OF THE ART SEPT. 14, 2016

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General Motors produces the Bolt EV at its existing production system at the Orion Assembly plant outside of Detroit.

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Laura McDermott for The New York Times

ORION TOWNSHIP, Mich. — Ten years ago, a little-known tech entrepreneur named Elon Musk published a secret master plan for Tesla Motors, an ambitious electric car start-up he had funded.

Revolutionary technologies always start as impractical and expensive, Mr. Musk explained, so Tesla’s first car would be a two-seat roadster that sold for $110,000. But by plowing profits from that car into research and production capacity, Mr. Musk promised that Tesla would quickly create a series of cheaper cars in higher volumes, all toward an almost mythical aim: creating a long-range electric car that could travel more than 200 miles on a single charge, but that cost less than $40,000 for the privilege.

This year, Mr. Musk’s white whale — a car that will get 238 miles per charge, and will sell for about $30,000 after a federal rebate — will finally make it to the roads. Mr. Musk’s master plan has gone exactly as he promised, except for one tiny hitch.

A first affordable long-range electric car, which I drove last month and which blew my mind, is not a Tesla. I had to fly from Silicon Valley to Detroit to drive it because the vehicle was invented not by a celebrated start-up, but by that hoariest cliché of tarnished American manufacturing glory, Chevrolet, which is owned by General Motors.

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Darin Gesse, the G.M. product manager for the Bolt, says the car has “a lifestyle focus, and it’s not just a commuter car.”

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Laura McDermott for The New York Times

The car is the Chevy Bolt EV, a squat, wedge-shaped compact hatchback. It is an important car for G.M., and, in a larger sense, for the traditional auto industry. It demonstrates the seriousness with which automakers are taking the threat posed by start-ups that are promising to alter everything about the car business. Not only is the Bolt the first inexpensive long-range electric on the road, but it will also function as G.M.’s platform for testing new models for ride-sharing and autonomous driving.

The Bolt is also proof that, in the car industry, size matters — that even if they may be slow to come around to the latest tech, big automakers can alter the car business even more radically than Tesla has, purely as a function of their bigness.

Mr. Musk, the chief executive of Tesla and SpaceX, has made a habit of embarrassing his naysayers, but there are increasing signs that his little car-company-that-could is nearing the limits of its potential. This spring, Tesla unveiled its own low-priced car, the Model 3, which will sell for just under $30,000 after a rebate, and will go 215 miles on a charge, which is less than the Bolt. About 400,000 people have paid $1,000 to get on the waiting list for the vehicle, which Tesla says will begin shipping to customers in late 2017.

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/15/technology/how-did-gm-create-teslas-dream-car-first.html?_r=0