GM’s New Plans To Challenge Tesla’s Electric Battery Dominance


Quiet Hybrids


General Motors plans to challenge Tesla’s share of the electric vehicle innovation marketplace by doing two things: making a better battery, and putting it in a long-range electric car that’s affordable.

GM announced this week that it’s developing a car that can go 200 miles on a single charge — the same distance that Tesla’s Model S can. But the GM version will cost about $30,000, less than half the $71,000 sticker price of the Model S.

The company is also aiming to do an overhaul of the electric car battery. As Quartz explains, Tesla’s Model S uses Panasonic batteries made of nickel, cobalt and aluminum. GM wants to use a lithium-ion battery made of nickel, cobalt and manganese — a chemical mix that scientists think could create a cheaper and more powerful lithium-ion battery, but that right now has some flaws that GM hopes can be fixed.

Right now, GM sells two battery-powered cars: the Chevy Volt, a plug-in hybrid which costs $35,000 and can go 38 miles on a charge before its gas-powered generator takes over, and the Chevy Spark, an all-electric car that can go 82 miles on a charge and costs $26,685 (both costs are before the $7,500 tax credit that electric car buyers are eligible for in the U.S.). GM is also focusing on making its current cars cheaper — the company has said the next generation of the Volt will cost $7,000 to $10,000 less than the current version.

Tom Libby, lead North American analyst for the Polk automotive research firm, told USA Today that an affordable, all-electric car that goes 200 miles on a single charge would go a long way in enticing more Americans to buy electric cars. Cost and range anxiety are two of the top reasons Americans don’t buy electric cars — today, all-electric cars make up only 0.3 percent of U.S. sales. So far, Tesla’s Model S has helped eliminate range anxiety, but its luxury pricing is still prohibitive.

“Their pricing is up there for a real unique customer,” Doug Parks, Vice President of GM’s Global Product Development, said of Tesla. “The real trick will be who can do a 200-mile car for more of the price range I’m talking about. We’re all in races to do that.”

For its part, Tesla has also discussed plans to release an affordable, long-range model within the next few years. And GM and Tesla aren’t the only car companies attempting to revolutionize the electric and hybrid market. In July, BMW announced its first electric vehicle, the $41,350 BMW i3, which can go 80 to 100 miles on a single charge and can be bundled with access to a BMW sport utility vehicle for several weeks out of the year. That way, a customer can buy the electric i3 for day-to-day driving, and get access to the conventional SUV for family vacations and road trips. It also comes with a smart phone app which displays information about the car’s charge level, battery condition and location.