Editors' pick: Originally published Sept. 23.
When it comes to what's cool in the automotive space, the name Tesla (TSLA) dominates conversation. Without a doubt, Tesla and its rock-star CEO, Elon Musk. have defied convention and created a couple of edgy, super-quick and highly aspirational electric vehicles.
The buzz that has engulfed Tesla's Model S sedan and Model X crossover far exceeds their impact in the vehicle market, which is minuscule. General Motors (GM) , reorganized following bankruptcy, is, by contrast, a lumbering and familiar giant that fights to be recognized for its engineering and manufacturing chops.
With GM about to bring to market its battery-powered, mass market Chevrolet Bolt EV within the next 90 days, the No. 1 U.S. automaker has a chance to grab the attention, particularly in light of Tesla's questionable forecasts for its own mass market EV, the Model 3 sedan.
"The Chevrolet Bolt represents the first 'real' electric car in the history of the automobile," said Karl Brauer, editorial director of Kelley Blue Book. "Before now, electric vehicles have either had practical ranges per charge of about 100 miles or less, or in the case of Tesla, were priced sky high.
"Now the Bolt arrives with a real-world range and real-world price," he said. "This combination doesn't guarantee success, but it will finally put EV technology to a real-world test in appealing to real-world, mainstream consumers."
Chevy's Bolt brings a few advantages on top of its 238-mile range between charges and $37,495 price tag before its $7,500 federal tax credit. As a hatchback (some may call it a crossover), the new EV features the configuration lately preferred by consumers, rather than a sedan setup. GM executives said it will be exceptionally well-suited to urban driverless fleets, should they materialize as expected in the coming decade.
In addition, the Bolt EV actually will be available, and soon. GM is entering the final phase of its conventional, stress-tested pre-production shakedown for the new model at its Orion Township, Mich., assembly plant. Though GM isn't forecasting a production rate, 50,000 vehicles in the first year of production might not be a stretch.
Tesla and Musk are trying to create a new super speedy, highly robotized assembly process at the company's single factory in Fremont, Calif. Musk has nicknamed the concept "alien dreadnought," a highly automated assembly line nearly free of workers.
The automaker hopes to build 500,000 total vehicles -- Model S, Model X and Model 3 -- just two years from now. Manufacturing experts have said Tesla's forecast is unrealistic; specifically, Model 3 will only enter production in the middle of 2017 and may not be widely available until later the next year.
Yes, 400,000 Tesla fans have already sent $1,000 each to the company to reserve a Model 3, which should sell in the mid-$30,000 range like Bolt EV and feature a 215-mile range. But how soon will the Silicon Valley startup be able fill the orders? The manufacturing system Musk is promising to create would do more than just bring a new model to market, it would shatter current manufacturing norms, forever transforming the way vehicles are assembled.