We’re not sure if it’s a David and Goliath epic or a Coyote and Roadrunner farce, but Tesla’s recent run of success has caught GM’s attention in a big way (not for the first time – it was Tesla that inspired Bob Lutz to override the skeptics and produce the Volt).
CEO Dan Akerson and Vice Chairman Steve Girsky have assembled a task force called Team Tesla that includes members from product planning, engineering, manufacturing and sales.
“History is littered with companies that knew what was coming and couldn’t do anything about it,” Girsky told Reuters. “We can ignore it and cover it up, or we can figure out what we’re going to do about it.” Girsky said Tesla was “revolutionizing the business model…not just how you put an EV together [but] how you go to market with something like this.”
Before you scoff at the idea that tiny Tesla poses a threat to giant GM, consider a couple of numbers. GM’s Volt has barely outsold Tesla’s Model S, although it’s been on the market three times as long and costs half as much. Tesla’s market value has soared 470 percent this year to $23 billion, almost half of GM’s $50 billion. If this growth rate continues, 10-year-old Tesla could theoretically take the title of the country’s largest automaker away from 105-year-old GM.
GM has already acknowledged that the company is “in a race” to develop an affordable EV with a 200-mile range, and it’s pretty obvious who they’re racing against.
Tesla CTO JB Straubel doesn’t sound too worried. “It’s not in their corporate DNA to really prioritize and believe in this stuff,” Straubel told Reuters. “I’m pretty pessimistic on Detroit. The culture there is part of the biggest problem. It’s too arrogant and it’s way too bureaucratic and too hierarchical. A lot of folks there in the leadership are trying to change it, but it’s so ingrained in the structures and the systems.”
A GM insider, who asked not to be identified, delivered the quote of the day: “The fact that GM is studying Tesla should flatter Elon Musk, but it should also scare the sh-t out of him. When you wake up the sleeping giant, look out.”