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Chevy Volt 2.0 vs. the Tesla Gen 3 Launch Strategy

Stocks in this article: GM TSLA GOOG AAPL NSANY

2. Unlike 2007-2010, the competitive environment for electric cars has suddenly intensified. Back then, there was a bit of kumbaya around the whole thing. Most importantly, Tesla has laid its cards on the table: A 2017 pure electric car that will cost $40,000 or less and will yield 200 miles.

Which brings us to the mirror image of this comparative case study: Tesla. Tesla's plan is to add a sub-$40,000 all-electric car in 2017 that yields 200 miles, as I said above. Now why on God's green earth does Tesla telegraph this intent several years in advance? As I recall it, this talk started already in or around 2011, perhaps even 2010 -- before even its current car, the Model S, began shipping.

Tesla has handled all tactical and strategic decisions brilliantly to date. Essentially everything has gone right, and it's gone right in just the right way. Basically, they nailed it. But this? For the life of me, I don't see what Tesla has to gain by being so specific about a 2017 car. Tesla could simply have said that the next car (after the Model X) would be less expensive and left it at that. That's pretty much all you need to know. It's not surprising, and wouldn't detract from current sales or sales in 2015 or 2016.

Saying that your next electric car would be less expensive is about as surprising as saying the next PC will have a faster and cheaper CPU. The competition wouldn't have something to work with.

As it stands, Tesla has put a huge target on its back. Whether Nissan, GM, BMW or VW/Audi, they now know what to target. It's become a challenge, whereas previously they might have passed or under-shot.

Take Nissan, for example. Its luxury division Infiniti showed a luxury electric car prototype two years ago. When Tesla started to narrow down the info on its 2017 car (which was then thought to be a 2016 or even 2015 car), Nissan canned this Infiniti and went back to the drawing board. Thank you for warning us!

How many people do you know who would have bought a Model S but are now saying, "I can wait to the $40,000 (some say $30,000) Tesla is out in 2017?" I know several. This just seems so unwise from Tesla's perspective: Giving away the secrets to the competition while telling your customers to wait at least three years instead of buying sometime before.

What can we expect? I think that, going forward, electric cars such as the Volt 2.0 and whatever Nissan next has in mind will be launched with a minimum of warning. Perhaps six months, perhaps even less. Certainly no more than a year ahead of deliveries. I'm guessing four months.

I can't recall a time when the automotive landscape has seen the kind of competitive upheaval I am forecasting on this issue. The way the industry launches cars is about to change a lot, and I wonder if Tesla didn't make a big mistake in terms of letting the whole world know about its future model way too soon.

And now that Dan Akerson isn't at GM anymore, perhaps GM is ready to launch the Chevy Volt 2.0 in full Steve Jobs style: "... and it's shipping... tomorrow!"

At the time of publication the author was long AAPL.

This article represents the opinion of a contributor and not necessarily that of TheStreet or its editorial staff.

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