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[video] GM: Six Years Ahead of Tesla

If you consider total-cost and lifecycle as well as lifestyle equations, fast recharging and battery swapping are likely to be more important longer term than the battery in the car itself. Seen in that light, whether an all-electric car has 200 miles or 300 miles of range, may not matter as much a few years from now as it does today.

So what are we to make of all of this? I think there are two major points:

1. GM was at least six years ahead of Tesla in delivering a $40,000 car that most people can drive on electricity at least almost all of the time. Volt shipped in 2010; Tesla, at best, in late 2016, probably later.

2. Faster recharging techniques and battery swapping could in turn swing the pendulum in favor of all-electric at some point. This requires infrastructure investment (which the Volt did not require), but could be worth it going forward.

It looks to me like the ingredients to fuel electrification of the automotive fleet in the next few years will have these components:

  1. Plug-in hybrids such as the Chevrolet Volt that require zero new public infrastructure investment. Just charge at home, at work or not at all if necessary. This makes for the least expensive, zero-compromise-usability electrified cars.
  2. All-electric cars for those who need maximum sports car performance or need a strict commuter car for relatively short, set distances. Tesla is the leader here.
  3. Faster recharging techniques and battery swap facilities to enable a shift to less expensive all-electric cars where the electric range doesn't need to be much longer than 200-300 miles to be competitive with hybrids. Tesla has the leadership to date in this area.

GM and Tesla, together with BMW and Nissan, look to be in the vanguard of these developments over the next five years. Much of the rest of the industry is lost in the hydrogen and fuel cell weeds. Or, in some cases, just waiting around to see if GM, Tesla, BMW and Nissan will succeed in making the electric car market mainstream.

Come 2016 or 2017, who do you think will have delivered on the most interesting, and best-selling, $40,000 car with an electric motor -- GM or Tesla?

At the time of publication the author had no position in any of the stocks mentioned.

This article was written by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

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