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MIT Technology Review

General Motors Is Doing Its Best to Out-Tesla Tesla

After unveiling its “Tesla fighter” last week, the company has now made a bold promise focused on using more renewable energy. Sound familiar?

September 16, 2016

General Motors seems to have Tesla’s number. First it fired a shot across the electric-car maker’s bow by announcing that the Chevrolet Bolt will pack enough electrons to give it a 238-mile range when it goes on sale later this year—far ahead of Tesla’s comparably priced Model 3, which CEO Elon Musk said would go about 215 miles on a charge.

If GM wounded Musk or Tesla with the reveal, today it rubbed in just a little bit of salt when it promised to use renewable energy to power 100 percent of its operations by 2050. It’s a bold claim for a company that has a huge, energy-hungry manufacturing footprint.

Hey, wait—isn’t Tesla usually the one making brash claims about being the clean-energy company of the future? Suggesting that it’s not happy to stop at cars, and wants to create grid-scale batteries and buy a big solar power firm to boot?

Elon Musk seems to be doing just fine, thanks very much.

But if GM is tempted to take its Bolt for a victory cruise from Tesla’s unproven Model 3 plant in Fremont, California, to its under-construction gigafactory in Nevada, it should probably hold off (and not just because the journey is around 260 miles).

As Bloomberg points out, this is a race that’s really just getting started, for at least one obvious reason: the Bolt is basically a utilitarian hatchback that costs $37,500 before rebates. The Model 3 is meant to go for $35,000 and borrows its styling from its much more expensive (and gorgeous) Model S.

So while Tesla faces the serious question of whether it can build the 400,000 Model 3s for which it already has orders in anything like a reasonable time frame, GM faces nearly the opposite issue: who’s gonna want a Bolt? There’s been a preponderance of mostly positive coverage in the past week about GM beating Tesla to the punch with a long-range electric car that can at least plausibly be called “affordable.” But will people buy them?

GM may be enjoying giving Tesla a couple of pokes over the last few days. But the fact that GM is coming out with the Bolt—and other big automakers like Volkswagen and BMW are working hard on electrics—validates Musk’s initial vision of transforming how automobiles are powered. He may not be first to market with an electric car for the masses (and let’s be honest, who knows what’s going on with the whole SolarCity deal). But that doesn’t necessarily mean Tesla is losing.

(Read more: New York Times, Bloomberg, “The Chevrolet Bolt Has Totally Trumped Tesla’s Model 3,” “Tesla-SolarCity Success Depends on Battery Technology That Doesn’t Yet Exist”)