My First Hour in Cadillac's Tesla-Fighter

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- A week ago, I got to spend some time in the Cadillac ELR, which enters volume production in November. No, I didn't get to drive it, but I performed a detailed examination of the interior.

Besides, it shouldn't drive too dramatically differently from the Chevrolet Volt -- except better, faster, better suspension, etc. But more about that later.

The Cadillac ELR is General Motors' ( GM) third electric car, following the Chevrolet Volt and the Chevrolet Spark, which just started selling in California and Oregon. It is based on the Volt, with much of the drivetrain hardware the same.

The history behind the ELR is this: At the Detroit Auto Show in January 2009, Cadillac showed the Converj concept car, based on the Volt, which had yet to enter production but whose design had been 99% completed and shown the previous September.

However, GM was on the ropes and went bankrupt. The Cadillac version of the Volt was put on ice. Once GM was back on solid footing, having seen its major debts and obligations being pushed on to the US taxpayer (among others), the electric Cadillac was revived two years later.

Engineering the ELR -- which would normally take over four years -- took only two years for two reasons:

1. It's based on the Volt. The hard parts of the drivetrain -- battery, generator, inverter, electric motor, all the electronics -- had already been developed, and all that was needed was some refinement, mostly software tuning.

2. The exterior design was defined from Day One (late Spring 2011): Make it look as close to the 2009 Converj concept car as possible! So no need for elaborate debate or design studies.

Let me first get to the point that we don't know: The price. It has been rumored that GM will set the price in time for the Pebble Beach Concours that's held in mid-August. That sounds reasonable and logical, given that the car will enter production in the week or two after Thanksgiving 2013.

You can equip a Chevrolet Volt up to $46,000-something, with a reasonably loaded configuration having an MSRP of $44,000. GM and its dealers offer approximately $5,000 off, for a $39,000 price. Tax incentives are up to $9,000 if you live in California, and will be the same on the Cadillac ELR.

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