Can GM Beat Tesla To Market With A $30,000 Electric Car?

Illustration for article titled Can GM Beat Tesla To Market With A $30,000 Electric Car?
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1st Gear: The Bolt Aims To Beat The Model III

Few cars have as much hype and excitement around them as the Tesla Model III, the company's upcoming entry-level electric car supposedly priced at $35,000 before incentives. But when will they get it out? Tesla has said they're aiming for a 2017 on-sale date, but you know how they can be with delayed promises.


General Motors is still mad that the Model S was a bigger hit than their Volt, so they've got a supposed Tesla-fighter up their sleeve: the 200-mile Chevrolet Bolt priced conveniently at $30,000. (Let's be fair and also note that's after after a $7,500 federal income-tax credit.)

Can it beat the Model III to market? A brief dispatch from Reuters:

General Motors plans to begin building the Chevrolet Bolt, its all-new $30,000 electric car, in October 2016 at an underused small-car plant north of Detroit, two supplier sources told Reuters.

GM's production target for the Bolt is about 25,000 to 30,000 cars a year, the sources said. The Bolt will be assembled, along with a companion model for GM's Opel subsidiary in Europe, at the Orion Township plant, the sources said.

Expect a sale date of late 2016 or early 2017 then. Elon's people had better be on their game.

2nd Gear: Gosh That's A Lot Of Cars

We all know 2014 was the best car sales year in a decade, thanks to a rebounding economy, cheap gas prices, freely available credit and a buying public ready to make potentially bad decisions again. How many cars did dealers sell on average?


About 921 cars each, a new record, Automotive News reports. And that's even though the number of dealerships hasn't really increased since 2013.

The average number of sales was based on total vehicle sales of 16.5 million at 17,953 dealerships last year. It's an increase from 874 units on average sold per store in 2013, based on annual sales of 15.6 million units sold at 17,838 stores, a statement said.

Last year's record is more than one and a half times the average of 564 new vehicles sold per dealership in 2009 and a significant increase from the 812-unit average in 2012.


A retail expert expects sales to rise slightly in 2015. We'll level off and have a downturn at some point, but we're probably not there yet.

3rd Gear: Takata Rebounds, Those Bastards

A lot of people expected Takata — the Japanese parts supplier embroiled in an explosive airbag scandal that revealed them to be so scummy that they make old GM look like the March of Dimes — to not survive their current crisis. Not so! Operating profits were up last year thanks to a weakened yen, and investors remain confident. From CNBC:

Beset by a massive recall scandal Takata cut its outlook for the full year, but shares bounced on Friday, suggesting that investors believe Japan's biggest airbag maker will survive the crisis.

"Takata's operating profit remains solid," said Advanced Research auto analyst Koji Endo. "Even if recall-related costs continue to rise, it is unlikely to go bankrupt."



4th Gear: Speaking Of Corporate Assholery...

Remember the price-fixing scandal among Japanese suppliers that led to several indictments, convictions and heavy fines in the U.S.? There's more on the way. From Reuters:


Two executives of Japanese auto parts company Mitsuba Corp were indicted on Thursday on charges of conspiring to fix the prices of auto parts and obstruction of justice, the Justice Department said.

Hiroyuki Komiya and Hirofumi Nakayama, both of whom were sales executives, were charged with fixing the prices of windshield wiper systems and components sold to automakers in the United States between 2000 and 2010, the department said.

They are also accused of trying to persuade Mitsuba employees to delete electronic data and destroy documents, the department said.


Barf, again.

5th Gear: Congress Can't Decide Whether To Give NHTSA More Money

President Obama's proposed budget nearly triples the funding for the division of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that investigates defects. The goal is to not have NHTSA be aware of problems for years before they actually order a recall, which is what happened with both GM and Takata.


What does Congress say? Several members of the Commerce Committee say it's a step in the right direction, or even that NHTSA needs more money, but its chairman isn't sold. From the Detroit News:

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., who chairs the Commerce Committee, said NHTSA needs reforms — but isn't sure that a budget increase is necessary. "We think there are ways too that you could reform and accomplish some things (without higher funding)," Thune said. "Clearly, we want to work with them, but it's going to be tough in this budgetary environment with all the constraints that we're dealing with to get significant increases in funding for any agency."


But it's not just expected Republican opposition to an Obama proposal. Here's another GOP congressman who says he thinks it may be the right move:

Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., another top ranking member of the Commerce Committee, called the NHTSA budget increase proposal "a step in the right direction."

"NHTSA needs to do something and obviously they are getting a lot of complaints," Heller said. "(NHTSA's) ability to field all of the complaints has been difficult in the last couple of years — and people paid a price for that."


NHTSA's defect investigation funding has been flat for about a decade, and this trend of Big Recalls appears to be the new normal. But will more money really help NHTSA get ahead of things?

Reverse: The First Insight Was Cooler

On this day in 2009, the Honda Insight, billed as "the world's first affordable hybrid," goes on sale in Japan. Honda took some 18,000 orders for the car within the first three weeks, pushing Toyota's Prius, known as the world's first mass-produced hybrid vehicle, out of the top-10-selling cars for that month, according to a March 2009 report in The New York Times.



Neutral: Can The Bolt Really Be A Tesla Fighter?

I think a lot of people buy Teslas because they like the tech, the power and the futuremobile aura surrounding the brand. The Bolt may be a great EV, but can it win hearts and minds the way the Model S has?

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My thought on the Bolt vs. Model III. Regardless of the Bolt coming out first and being $5k less than the MIII people will still wait and line up for the Tesla. The brand has become the Apple of the automotive world. Even if it cost more than the competition for similar specs people will choose one over the other for the sake of brand recognition and saying they own a Tesla. GM, like Nokia does not have the brand recognition they once had with the new generation of car buyers. Their marketing team has allot of work ahead of them to appeal to millennials like myself in order to make their Bolt project a success.