Electric vehicle maker Tesla has had some good days lately as sales of the Model S have exceeded expectations as much as the company's profits, thanks in no small part to innovative thinking that has resulted in mass sales of ZEV credits to other manufacturers, free charging stations, 90-second battery swaps and manufacturer-owned dealerships. All of this has the attention of General Motors, who views Tesla as a disruptive force to the auto industry and as a threat to the 104-year-old automaker.

Case in point: GM recognizes that Tesla must be doing something right if it can sell more of its $69,900 Model S sedans than the $39,145 Volt. So what is GM doing about it? Chief Executive Officer Dan Akerson assigned a small team to study Tesla so the company won't be caught off guard in the future. In an interview with Bloomberg, Steve Girsky, GM vice chairman, said, "History is littered with big companies that ignored innovation that was coming their way because you didn't know where you could be disrupted."

GM was one of those big companies at one point, and it hasn't quite broken that mold. It has struggled to move on from the old, inefficient practices of its past, leading Akerson to chide employees at a recent conference in Houston because so many in-house patents had failed to be commercialized and implemented in GM designs. This, of course, resulted in a huge research-and-development budget that was wasteful. But Akerson knows that GM must rely on innovation and a tight focus on technologies that customers want if it is to be profitable and survive in the long term.

Ultimately, it seems GM is looking at Tesla to help establish a healthy culture of innovation, as the company is stinging from the success of the Model S. But at least it's looking at a glass that's half full.


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  • 198 Comments
      Street King
      • 1 Year Ago
      Simple, build a better model S and sell it for cheaper. Kill the mosquito before it bites you.... Chasing this any other way will lead to failure. The Volt is a fine car, it just became a political punching bag.... rebody the thing.
      mylexicon
      • 1 Year Ago
      According to the article, the headline should read: Akerson calls for GM Tech to study Tesla This headline might have been more intriguing, but it wouldn't have fit the clickbait mold, and someone might have accused ABG of putting good journalism before shareholder returns.
      VL00
      • 1 Year Ago
      I like my Volt, but I'll drop it for a Tesla when I have the money
        methos1999
        • 1 Year Ago
        @VL00
        Hey VL00, just wanted to make sure you know how much of a Jackass you are from a previous thread: VL00 I dare you to name 10 components shared between a Volt and a Cruze. I'll give you hint: not one body panel, not the engine, not even the hubs (can't interchange wheels). So lets hear it, you talk like you know something.... Well, turns out you obviously haven't done any research: Um, how about the engine you jackass? Oh and lets not forget the Z-link suspension. How about the electric steering? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GM_Family_0_engine http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GM_Delta_platform This is not to mention all sound insulation, buttons, knobs, fasteners that are all common to GM parts bin. So who's talking like they know something? Certainly not you - obviously you think the Volt was a stand alone effort just for you.
      John P
      • 1 Year Ago
      Step #1 get all of theTelecom boobs and those with a military org. mind-set out of the car business. I used to work for GM and they ( GM "Brass" and the Board of "Directors"(?) ) have never been hungry...I hope that it isn't too late to change,
        Jerry
        • 1 Year Ago
        @John P
        I left GM mostly because of the poor management too. First 3 days of the week were almost 100% packed with meeting after meeting because there were three engineers in my department and three 8th level manager who we directly reported to. None of the managers went to each others' meetings, so we had the report the same stuff multiple times every freaking week. We then worked on Thursday and started to prep for the following week's meeting marathon on Friday. It was a highly frustrating and inefficient vicious cycle. Could never get any REAL engineering work done. Just could not do it anymore. Especially after doing that for my last threes working on the current Malibu. After seeing that turd in person for the first time, it kind of reaffirmed that all the meetings were not beneficial...
        dukeisduke
        • 1 Year Ago
        @John P
        Dan "Captain Queeg" Akerson is the worst thing to happen to GM in awhile.
      Avinash Machado
      • 1 Year Ago
      Misleading headline.
      car-a-holic
      • 1 Year Ago
      Toyota was smart to sign up; join the party and invest. How remarkable the divergent paths of these car companies seem to be. GM must still think its their way or the highway??? They had a chance to be the pioneers, but they screwed that up. Some great products GM but I still perceive your corp to be mired in corporate arrogance and stagnate engineering failures.....
      Kwijiboz
      • 1 Year Ago
      The headline had me expecting something a lot more sinister than this. So a CEO is strongly encouraging the company study a success story and utilise patents they've already got rather than existing in a bubble? Bravo!
      Ryan
      • 1 Year Ago
      Update the EV1 and take some design features of the Corvette and you could have a winner. The Spark EV is close, but having a supercharging network and a car that can go at least 150 miles and recharge at 50 mile range an hour is important.
      methos1999
      • 1 Year Ago
      I think GM's biggest problem with the Volt is the class it's in - it's too expensive for those who truly just want to save money (a used Prius is the clear savings winner), and the Chevy badge doesn't have the prestige to attract luxury car buyers. Because the Volt is FWD & tuned for economy it will never be a sports sedan either. So that leaves it with a fairly niche market of those who want to be green and those who love technology (early adopters). One thing to make clear is I don't think it's a bad car, I even think it looks pretty good - not stunning, but way better looking than a Prius or Leaf. Meanwhile, Elon Musk had always said the goal of the Model S was not to make the best electric car, but the best car in the world - period. Winning Motor Trend COTY and 99/100 from Consumer Reports shows that Tesla has pretty much accomplished that. So in that light, Tesla's market is not a niche, it's targeted squarely at the luxury sport sedan crowd, so anybody thinking of a Mercedes, BMW, Audi, Jaguar or Cadillac would likely be cross shopping the Model S. And this is not even bringing up the fact that it's electric, but once you do, you start eating some of the Volt's market of green and/or tech people. So what does GM need to do to compete? Simple, start making the best cars in the world. Make them fast, efficient, with great handling dynamics. Make the exterior beautiful and the interior spacious & luxurious. Don't just add widgets, but make the entire vehicle innovative. Do this across the board and not just on halo cars.
        icemilkcoffee
        • 1 Year Ago
        @methos1999
        Your argument doesnt wash- the Tesla is far more expensive and a far worse financial proposition than the Volt. Also- you cannot compare new acrs with used cars. Otherwise the used car would win every time and there would be no point for anyone to buy new cars. The problem with the Volt is the super awkward styling, both exterior and interior. The Volt is the polar opposite of the Tesla, which is a clean, distinctive looking car, even if it is not quite as sharrp as the Fisker Karma.
          methos1999
          • 1 Year Ago
          @icemilkcoffee
          Ok, so I wasn't really trying to compare new cars to used cars. My point there was to say that while electric is appealing to those of us who'd like to save on operating cost & maintenance, the upfront price makes it a tough sell, which of course is endemic of all electric vehicles. My point (which you apparently missed) is not to compare Volt to Model S directly, but that the Volt may be a decent car, but it's not the BEST car you can buy for the money. Meanwhile the Model S is arguably the BEST car you could buy at it's price point. And on an even broader point, it's that the goal of GM needs to change from "not bad" to "best".
        purrpullberra
        • 1 Year Ago
        @methos1999
        I actually am right with you about everything except the first half of the first sentence. I really believe that if the Volt wasn't baselessly attacked and instead promoted as a way to beat the high costs of oil usage by its biggest and loudest haters that the Volt would be selling 40-50k a year. It's half that. It's classes, size and price, do make it harder to see the value proposition, I agree with that too. But I see the venom spewed out at the Volt as the single biggest problem. So many folks buy mid-size cars that pealing off ten thousand here and there is easy enough for a wonderful car like the Volt. Were it not for the venom and politics surrounding it....
          methos1999
          • 1 Year Ago
          @purrpullberra
          I absolutely agree that the venom towards the Volt as a political punching bag has likely hurt the car tremendously. I still think it's a tough sell even without the bad PR - because the price range it's in you start approaching base Audi A4 & BMW 3 series prices, but the Volt is most definitely not an A4 or 3 series competitor in terms of prestige or driving dynamics. On the other hand, could look at it from an approach of mid-sized cars, which would be equivalent to a fully loaded Fusion or Accord, which remains a tough sell because for that price I could get AWD on a Fusion, and I could get a sunroof (sounds silly but my wife demands it on her next car) - not to mention either a Fusion or Accord could seat 5, while the Volt seats 4 (not a priority for me, but with those with kids it might be).
        Winnie Jenkems
        • 1 Year Ago
        @methos1999
        very well said
      brianfl33916
      • 1 Year Ago
      "Case in point: GM recognizes that Tesla must be doing something right if it can sell more of its $69,900 Model S sedans than the $39,145 Volt." Well Im guessing that the Volt is targeting the everyday car buyer. At nearly $40k most buyers simply opt for the equivalent gas model because they realize it would be a long time before they would recoup the gas savings. It's a tough sell to the mainstream car buyer. The Model S is whole animal. At $70k it's not for your average car buyer. Most of the people that buy the Model S have the money to buy these things as secondary vehicles for around town driving. I think as EV technology gets better the gap will close between all manufactures of EVs because prices will come down and be more competitive.
      JaredN
      • 1 Year Ago
      The Model S is a beautiful, very roomy car with very, very good performance and handling. The Volt simply isn't.
        • 1 Year Ago
        @JaredN
        [blocked]
      F1
      • 1 Year Ago
      its the perception. tesla model s is the 'in' thing over here in the san francisco bay area where i see at least 1 a day. probably helps that tesla headquarters is 30 min. away form sf. adding to the perception, tesla became more known during 2009, and theyre not located in detroit. people who didnt buy domestic before might consider buying a tesla because their not associated with detroit. they might be viewed as a fresh start for domestics. not just that but the model s is a really attractive and elegant car, where the volt looks more utilitarian. as many times as i seen it in photos the first time i saw the model s i thought it was a maserati. i hope gm figures it out. i think gm should make their green cars more affordable. its easier for telsa right now because theyre a small company. gm is huge and the bureaucracy makes it more difficult.
        Brian Calhoun
        • 1 Year Ago
        @F1
        I saw 5 Model S and a Roadster at lunch in downtown LA its pretty nice to see people embracing electricity. It's a damn shame the Volt was changed so much from the concept.
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