By Ben Klayman
WARREN, Michigan (Reuters) – General Motors Coâ€™s electric vehicle program will continue to focus on affordable electric cars for the mainstream public even though it plans to launch a luxury Cadillac-badged companion to its Chevrolet Volt, a top executive said on Monday.
While the Cadillac ELR coupe will debut late this year and bring GM more closely into competition with electric carmaker Tesla Motors Inc <TSLA.O>, GM Vice President for Global Product Programs Doug Parks said the automaker wants to improve the performance and lower the costs of the Volt and its future siblings.
â€œWeâ€™re trying to put more stress on getting this right for the lower-priced vehicles,â€ he told reporters at the companyâ€™s global battery systems laboratory outside Detroit.
GM sells the Volt for about $35,000 before federal tax credits, compared with $71,000 for Teslaâ€™s Model S electric car. So far this year, Tesla has sold almost as many of its luxury cars as GM has sold Volts. Parks said GM officials â€œhavenâ€™t simplified the messageâ€ enough to consumers about the Voltâ€™s value.
GM also sells the Chevy Spark EV small car for about $27,500 and offers discounted leases on it and the Volt. The company has said the next version of the Volt, due in 2015 or 2016, will cost $7,000 to $10,000 less.
The Detroit automaker is aiming by 2017 to build up to 500,000 vehicles a year with some form of electrification. The vehicles would include the Volt, the Spark EV and those with its eAssist hybrid system that boosts fuel efficiency in gas-powered cars.
Regarding Teslaâ€™s approach to grouping together inexpensive laptop batteries to get a better electric driving range that starts at 200 miles, Parks called the Model S is an â€œintriguingâ€ car but the â€œreal trickâ€ is hitting that target at a price point that appeals to a broader customer base.
â€œComing in and matching what Tesla did isnâ€™t that exciting for us,â€ he said.
Nevertheless, GM has formed a team to study the electric carmaker and whether it poses a threat. GM Chief Executive Dan Akerson said in March GM was working on new EVs, including one with a 200-mile electric driving range.
Tesla founder and chief executive Elon Musk has said a compact electric sedan known internally as Gen 3 that is due in 2016, will have a 200-mile range per charge. He described the car on a previous call with analysts as a â€œhigh-volume affordable carâ€ that will be priced from around $35,000.
Parks said Tesla will look good if it moves down market successfully, but he wasnâ€™t jealous of its success so far.
Parks said GM will stick with its current strategy, focusing on improving the Voltâ€™s extended range electric system in tandem with a gasoline engine that addresses consumer anxiety about being stranded if the electric power runs out.
â€œThe game is afoot,â€ he said of the electric vehicle market. â€œThis is a long race.â€
Parks said GM likely wonâ€™t stop at the Cadillac ELR and would look at doing other EVs in the $100,000 plus price range. â€œWe may do a couple of cars up there too because thatâ€™s a great place to be and weâ€™re a full-line manufacturer,â€ he said.
Of the next-generation Volt, Parks said GM is pushing to build it more efficiently, with a lighter curb weight and a higher electric driving range, as well as a lower sticker price.