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TheStreet Open House

Advice for GM's CEO Mary Barra

Most people I know never drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco, from Boston to Washington D.C., or equivalent. If you're going on a 400-mile trip, you fly. Time is valuable and an airplane is more advanced than creeping at 75 miles per hour one foot off the ground, ready to be decapitated by the next oncoming 18-wheeler.

For example, most people I know who bought a Tesla in California had not driven from Los Angeles to San Francisco in decades, if ever. If you're paying $100,000 for a car, you're not a starving college student. You fly -- sometimes even in a private plane.

But now, just because you bought a Tesla, you feel the urge to "show everyone you know" that you can indeed make this drive. And that's great! It works very well.

Well, at least it works very well under a few circumstances. Let's list a couple of obstacles:

Charger congestion: People often cite that you can get 200 miles on a 20-minute charge -- or 150 miles on a 30-minute charge -- or whatever, at a Tesla charger located between two major cities such as San Francisco and Los Angeles. Thats basically fine, even though I'd prefer to stop for 10 minutes instead of 20 or 30 -- and I'd like to stop when I feel like it, not at specific spots spaced 150 or even 100 miles apart.

But that's if there is nobody ahead of you in line for the chargers! Many electric car charging stations only have three to six "pumps" and they may all be busy when you get there. Even worse, there may be a few cars ahead of you. Now that 20- or 30-minute stop can turn into an hour or two. This prospect would be a severe drawback.

Re-routing: It could get even hairier. Let's say you're driving from San Francisco to Los Angeles. As you approach Bakersfield on the I-5 freeway, the signs say the Grapevine incline has been shut down because of snow. As a result, now you are being re-routed onto 58 East before heading south before the Edwards Air Force Base.

This is a significant re-routing, and because your last charge was at Harris Ranch on the I-5 you no longer have the ability to charge at a Tesla fast-charge location before you hit LA. Ouch. You will now have to find a 240 volt AC charger somewhere southeast from Bakersfield, and wait several hours.

The point here is that as great as the Tesla chargers are -- and they really are fantastic -- they do not solve every problem. There could be too few chargers, both geographically in terms of spacing, and in relation to the number of Teslas on the road.

So how should GM position itself to compete with Tesla, BMW, Nissan and the others? Here is a three-step plan for Mary Barra to implement:

1. Offer evolved versions of the Volt drivetrain in most body styles.

The single biggest reason the Volt sold so relatively poorly -- 2,000 per month in the U.S. and few more internationally -- is that it only fits four people and the rear seat is generally cramped. Make the Volt in the minivan body styles of Mazda 5, Honda Odyssey, Dodge Caravan and Toyota (TM) Sienna and sales would turn up drastically.

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