GM CEO Assembles Task Force to Analyze the Disruptive Threat From Tesla


General Motors CEO Dan Akerson is readying the automaker for the possible disruptive force that is Tesla Motors.

Elon Musk Says Bring It On

Elon Musk Says Bring It On

Bloomberg is reporting that GM will assemble a Tesla task force to study the possible threat coming from the electric automaker.

News organization Bloomberg quotes Steve Girsky, GM vice chairman, as saying this: 

“He [Akerson] thinks Tesla could be a big disrupter if we’re not careful.  History is littered with big companies that ignored innovation that was coming their way because you didn’t know where you could be disrupted.”

Akerson has reportedly “assigned a small team to study billionaire industrialist Elon Musk’s upstart electric-car maker and how it might threaten the 104-year-old automaker’s business,” says Bloomberg.

Why spy on Tesla?  Well, Bloomberg says that it’s part of a bigger strategy at GM, one that is focused on developing and producing vehicles with cutting-edge technology.  Yes, Tesla has that cutting-edge technology, but should GM be worried over Tesla?

For the top exec at GM to say he’s concerned that Tesla could be a disrupter, there has to be some fear there.  Maybe more than we’re lead to believe.

We’re sure Musk will be thrilled to learn that GM is now “looking over his shoulder.”  We can almost sense that Musk is already grinning from ear to ear.

Source: Bloomberg

Categories: Chevrolet, Tesla


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61 Comments on "GM CEO Assembles Task Force to Analyze the Disruptive Threat From Tesla"

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GM needs to be prepared when the bluestar is released in a few years.

As long as GM has a equivalent offering of 200 mile EV range for about $35, 000 they’ll be fine. And if Tesla can offer one then, so could every car maker who’s been making cars for years!

One possible advantage to Tesla is the supercharger network (and maybe battery swap?)

An advantage to GM is 2-thousand dealers & service stations nationwide.

Kdawg, as usual – is spot on! Charging stations at GM dealers will bring folks right to the dealer’s door. GM surely has to study Tesla. Everything from the conveniences of the car – no key startup and walk-away – Supercharging and batt swap – and everything in-between. GM – study the direct-sales advantages. Cut out the middle man, give the consumer the best product in the world. Model YES is rolling into Europe as we speak. Soon, the Germans will be very scared also. I’m predicting some major ( false ) pushback soon – perhaps contrived Tesla explode and burn scenarios. Also, GM could just try to buy the company and put it to bed. GM is a truck and SUV machine. It’s nearly all of it’s business plan. EV advocates have been screaming for GM to build Voltec trucks and higher-utility family sedans. So far – they’ve piddled with an inferior hybrid tech, slowly rolled out a S. Korean city EV 2 years behind the competition and came out with the completely senseless $60,000-80,000 Cadillac ELR which looks pathetic next to any Model S. GM and all others should be “scared” – Scared into catching up to the… Read more »

I’ll add GM has introduced a diesel to America in their 4 year-old
Cruze developed in S. Korea and Germany. Diesel won’t hack it in
America – so they’ve made a VW TDi fighter….whoa! Peeking into
GM’s very near future we will get Impala Ecos and redesigned Malibus
after it’s first year. 2-Mode ala mode.

GM’s biggest deal – and a VERY big one is the Volt. A very good idea that
sent me back to a GM showroom after 25 years of foreign-made cars. Volt
owners love our cars. It’s one scenario that defeats range-anxiety and it’s
a world-changer like Model S. So why no Voltec models other than
the joke that is called ELR? Why , as Bob Lutz put it – have the “Bean Counters” at GM won again? Why is Akerson just realizing a tiny upstart like Tesla can beat them at their own game in their own country because
of GM’s old-fashioned approach to car sales? Not meeting consumer needs and wants – BUT trying to inform the consumer what they need and want?

So is he worried about the dealership model?, built-to-order sales?, battery tech?, infotainment tech?, or just trying to figure out if they can buy them?

Akerson has many worries to pick from. Seems like they are the first (or second if you count Audi’s rescinded press release to openly acknowledge the threat posed by Tesla. A Tesla driver on the East Coast met a VW employee charging a Model S at a SuperCharger earlier this year. They were supposedly taking it back to disassemble it. Not that it is uncommon in the business, but I bet they didn’t buy a Coda for disassembly.

I’ll tell them the first thing they need to do:

Drop the MSRP of the Volt by about $5,000. I’m sure Ally bank won’t be thrilled since it will kill the residual on all of their leases.

Learn how to advertise the Volt so that people actually understand what the car is and what it does. No tree-hugger commercials either.. play up its other aspects.

Then increase the performance by 1 or 2 seconds, even if that means giving it a sport mode that allows the ICE to run for additional power.

It also wouldn’t hurt to take a cue from Tesla and Apple and re-do some of the user-interface on the Volt to make it more user friendly.

If they did all of that, the Volt could be a serious competitor to Tesla.

I look at Ford’s My Touch (and today’s lawsuit) and I think automakers are just better off implementing some sort of dumb head-end and allowing people to connect their iPhone or Android phone and let that be the user interface. Put in some sort of API to manage things like phone integration into the car’s stereo and microphone, tune the radio (terrestrial or satellite) and go from there. I don’t need my car to be an app platform. I have an app platform already in my phone.

This is what GM already DID do for the SPARK EV:

Still a poor user experience…

“The full app can be purchased and downloaded for $49.99 without map updates or $59.99 with map updates in years 2 and 3 (data plan charges may apply).”

Meanwhile Google Maps is free.

Meanwhile google maps is stuck on your phone’s tiny screen; that’s a poor user experience.

I’d rather have a nice, configurable, built in system. Many people don’t have smart phones, or many people are like me who hate their phone. (It’s a work phone, I don’t get to control over it).

The only problem is that the built-in system adds more to the cost of the car than a smart phone (with a big screen), or a third-party navigation system does.
It is difficult to replace and, since only a minority of cars have it, makes the car a target for thieves.
Adding to the problem is that the screen is in a fixed position, one that is too far from windshield which makes using it a bit more dangerous and is on all the time.

My navigation system is stuck to the windshield where I can see it without taking my eyes of the road and is out of sight and switched off in the glove box when I don’t need it.
If it breaks, I can replace it with a new one for far less the cost, in money and time, of bringing it in to be fixed.

My 2007 hybrid had a state-of-the-art Nav and touchscreen when new. Soon thereafter, it was an antique. I think a hybrid of what Kdawg and Anthony suggests is possible. At the 2013 CES in Vegas, Samsung showed off it’s OLED gadgets of the near future. OLEDs will make the big flat rectangle of a device in the futuristic ( for today ) Model S soon look dated. OLED touchscreens are thin and flexible so as to be curved around the driver. Soon, your dash will look like something from a sci-fi movie. All touch-integrated. Make the touchscreen basically a monitor for your smartphone, with it’s own distinct car functions like Model S. This way, your apps are transportable from car-to-car. In my wife’s Prius, I just stick my Galaxy S3 in the space where the factory nav is, or in my other vehicles, in the cupholder or sunglass shelf. My rubber case acts like glue and it doesn’t scoot or shift, even over the biggest potholes or panic stops. I dial up Google Nav and never use the archaic Toyota nav at all. Besides StreetView and satellite photos of where I am, I speak to it and it very quickly… Read more »

“If they did all of that, the Volt could be a serious competitor to Tesla.”

Apparently some people still don’t get BEV. They mistakenly think PHEV=BEV.

It is.

The difference is that the generator of electricity is of a specific type and on-board in a PHEV, where as a BEV’s generator is undetermined and not on-board.

The PHEV usually has a smaller battery, but it has one, meaning it is a battery electric vehicle, but that is not part of what makes it so.

What David just described was a EREV (extended-range EV) where the ICE is a generator and has no direct connection to the drivetrain (example: Fisker Karma, BMW i3). A PHEV is a hybrid vehicle with an ICE that DOES have a direct connection to the drivetrain (example: Chevy Volt, Prius Plug-in).

A EREV is closest to an EV in that only the electric motor has a direct connection to the drivetrain. The ICE is only a generator.

I’ve thought for awhile now that the situation was actually the other way around, in that Tesla would be concerned about the big boys of the automotive world, like GM. Really, all it would take would be a company like GM to come out with the mass market All Electric car, before or at the same time Tesla anticipates to market their Blue Star. I mean, let’s face it, GM isn’t far away from that reality already with the Volt. Spitting distance really. Drop the range extender, put in more batteries, make sure it’s a 5 seater, and GM is there. That and GM has a vast network of car dealerships. And deep pockets. And a vast research/developement complex.

Although that news was flattering, if I were Tesla, I wouldn’t rest on my laurels.

“Drop the range extender, put in more batteries, make sure it’s a 5 seater, and GM is there.”

There is the problem. To get a battery 4 times bigger than the current one, Volt would have to be a zero/one seater. Tesla’s battery is of much higher density – and S is a much bigger car.

Yet, like a massive ship with a tiny rudder, laden with beancounters and politics, it takes 5-10 years for GM to turn around. Volt was really a proof-of-concept project that got legs – most likely due to GM’s impending bankruptcy. GM needed clout before congress just to survive. How quickly we forget history. Laukner and Lutz envisioned Volt as a Prius-beater, but with it’s huge expensive battery pack, that surely could not be for the foreseeable future – esp. with four seats. Yet, nearly miraculously – it steamed ahead, and remarkably with an extremely transparent development and proofing process. I would credit Bob Lutz’s employment and contractual powers within GM for muscling Volt through. He is gone as are many if not most of the key figures at GM responsible for it’s existence. GM says – “we lose money on each one sold, so BLAAAH – we’ll go back to SUVS and BIG TRUCKS”. Easy money is GM’s middle name. Sure, GM could outdo Tesla in just a couple years. But will it? That’s a big, big question. I’m not sure the old-schoolers haven’t taken over the reins at GM once again, and Mr. Outsider – Akerson is facing extreme… Read more »

The biggest threat and anchor holding GM back from developing new innovative products is the cost prohibitive UAW.

Totally agree…

That is not GM’s only huge hurdle. But it’s a large one – no doubt.

Of course, blame labor for management’s incompetence…makes perfect sense to me.

Apparently, nobody is allowed to bargain for, or is worthy of, or is worth, a living wage. All hail the CEO! Labor is just a bunch of inefficient machines. It’s not like they are human beings…only the Board of Directors are humans worthy of compensation (and, boy, do they get compensated – at labor’s expense).

If Tesla motors didn’t suck so hard on bean counting skills and engineering (2.1ton) then this would be more amusing for the old garde to squirm. So far we are relying on heavy endless cash infusions for Tesla to be a success and that’s a very unstable situation that could blow up at any time.
Tesla motors needs to wake up and realize that optimization is vital. Light weight and good aero is of course key to EV viability. Not moronic 2.1ton.

But despite the mindlessness at Tesla, I can only imagine that the various luxury car makers are very concerned. Tesla hasn’t done anything significant in Europe yet but otherwise Audi, BMW and Merc would really feel the heat.
Every time a Model S is seen on the road it erodes the old garde’s credibility as desirable products. It gnaws at the mind. Burns illusions.

If Audi is vorsprung durch technik then who are these Tesla guys…

Maybe GM could destroy some electric cars out in the desert. Might make them feel better..
Akerson, if you want to know what to do, call me.

2.1 tons doesn’t seem to be an issue for all the people driving them, including the different magazines that have enjoyed the ride. Obviously the engineering has go be pretty decent to be where they are instead of where Fisker is. They must be doing something right and it must not be easy or else GM would already be doing it and not worrying about a committee.

Dan, your superficial outlook is again highly amusing.

Batteries are heavy, so high range means more weight. People want high range.
What counts is efficiency and the model s is more efficient at this higher weight than most other cars, which speaks for electric propulsion and tesla’s engineering skills.
Economic sense is good, bean counting is pathetic.

Every business enterprise requires funds. Making cars is expensive, so it needs lots of funds.
Growing requires funds. Growing quickly always require more funds than revenue can cover.
They are not stealing this money; people are willingly INVESTING. Companies generally use these funds to INVEST in new revenue bringing products and increase production of revenue bringing product.

Optimization is not perfection. It is doing the best with what is available.
Light weight high density solid state electrical energy storage is NOT available.

The more I admire something/someone, the more critical I look. Tesla has made many decision which, in my dubious opinion, were not good, but I have yet seen any evidence of mindlessness. Even your points indicate none.

“If Audi is vorsprung durch technik then who are these Tesla guys…”
‘Vorsprung durch noch mehr, bessere und effizientere Technik’ of course 😉

Dan has obviously not driven a Model S – or Roadster. If he had, he wouldn’t
sound so pious and predictable.

Dan also hasn’t kept up with the times. Tesla paid off all it’s government loans 7
years early. It’s stock is a raging bull – even after “experts” who’ve short-invested for quick profit slam Tesla’s prospects – it’s stock recovers as quickly as the 3.9 – 4.0 seconds it takes a P85 to get to 60 mph.

I think Dan Frederiksen is probably a great guy. He just doesn’t get out much.

What part of a drag coefficient under 0.24 do you not comprehend? It’s the lowest drag coefficient of any vehicle ever mass-produced in the US market. Ironically, the EV-1 had better (under 0.20), but it was never mass-produced. Nobody is going to buy an Aptera…

If GM cannot produce a 300 mile Sedan EV with current battery chemistry and technology they will always be trumped by Tesla. When new battery chemistry and technology gets produced you can bet Tesla will be utilizing it in their vehicles. So in 3-4 years when GM rolls out the 200 mile EV Tesla will have the 600 mile Model S, X and the 300 mile Blue Star. Analyze this GM, Tesla offers Free Fast Charging at locations worth spending 30 min. (not at dealerships)

Time stops for no one!

GM can easily produce one, the question is, Would people be willing to pay the price that it costs to produce? The answer is no.

GM can’t produce a 300 mile EV with their current battery (just as Nissan can’t). Remember Tesla has a much higher energy density battery that they get for much cheaper.

@evnow: Exactly.

@Dan: A drag coefficient of less than 0.24 is the best of any vehicle ever mass-produced in the US market. That’s impressive while still looking like a car someone would buy (*cough*Aptera*cough*). The crew at TM is clearly aware of aerodynamics.

I don’t know about Tesla having the jump on battery chemistry. GM has a lab that is constantly testing hundreds of different batteries & chemistries. It’s the largest and most advanced lab of its kind, in the US.

GM also has investments in companies like Envia which are producing results. This technology would have to be licensed by Tesla if they wanted to use it.

Tesla’s batteries in the Model S are not very advanced, but they may be the best batteries for their application, regarding what’s available now. (weight/cost/c-rate/etc). A purpose-designed battery using some of the new chemistries being tested, could blow the current products out of the water.

Yes, but GM (and all the others as well) don’t even consider the more cost effective 18650 cell format. Tesla has taken that format and has patented further cost reductions in their special can design. They have a nice lead in battery tech.


They might not lead in battery chemistry (that is sourced from Panasonic, so it’s not theirs) but they do lead in the management technology that comes with their batteries.

Mr Akerson, you can call-off the task force.

Just make an EV that looks great, accelerates quick, rides well, includes innovative features, and is priced competitively. Like Tesla does.

No shit. That was my reaction 100%. Akerson hates the committee mentality and then what does he do: He appoints a committee to study Tesla. What a frickin’ laugh. Just build a 200 mile EV that’s competitively priced w/ the Tesla. GM has all the tools the only thing they lack is the ambition to do it.

I think Bob Lutz tried, and Jon Lauckner said it had to have a range extender. Now that that is water under the bridge, it’s time for a purpose-built EV.


GM is always late to the race… They’re just doing this NOW???

And I agree with Open-Mind: just make a car that’s worth buying, driving, enjoying– and people will.

Well, they’re just “announcing” they’re doing it now. 🙂

Either GM has been doing this all along and this is nothing more than a PR move, or they’re the dumbest, most arrogant, most short sighted corporation on the planet.

And for all those saying all they have to do is build a car like Tesla’s, it’s not that simple. GM is freaking huge compared to Tesla, which means they can’t do a niche car profitably the way a much smaller company can using equivalent technology in the R&D&D stages and in the final product. As the EV market and battery technology matures, and as Tesla grows (a lot), this advantage will evaporate. But for right now, it must be a real pain in the grounding terminal to compete with Tesla.

I would opine that both GM and Tesla currently offer niche models in the extreme-performance and luxury-performance categories. And those are the categories most ripe for electrification, as Tesla has shown. How GM cannot see this is beyond me. I’m glad GM is making the Spark EV, but from a profit perspective the econo-box segment was the worst place to start their electrification transition.

The Spark EV wasn’t introduced to get the greatest profit per unit (YET), it was to obtain the greatest ZEV credits possible as soon as possible. The Spark EV, a commuter vehicle, is perfectly placed for mass-adoption by virtue of its price and features; however, introducing it now in CA and OR allows GM to reap the benefits of the ZEV credits by focusing the limited production there. Ramping up later in other geographic locations will allow them to drive down production costs further and achieve larger profits from that segment.

Good point. I tend to think in terms of free-markets … an outdated concept … my mistake.

And folks, this is exactly why the left’s climate change scams (cooling and warming) were invented.

It’s all about power and control.

Oh yes AGW is all about power & control – not the deniers funded by trillion dollar fossil fuel industry. Makes total sense to fans of Palin, I suppose.

I guess typing snotty retorts is easier than anything containing proof or substance. After 50 years of politically-driven climate-doomsday predictions, nothing has changed.

Yeah, this trace gas called C02 … that we all exhale … that is essential for plant life … that has made Al Gore a billionaire … it will always cause doom in 20 years … unless we embrace higher taxes and less freedom. Makes total sense to fans of Gore, I suppose. 😉

Sorry, but much has changed.
And yes, co2 is essential for plant-life, but that does not mean there can never be too much. There is a correct amount for everything; too little is bad, too much is bad.

The amount we exhale is fine. The added gigatonnes from other combustion sources is too much. Add to that what we do not exhale, like carbon monoxide, and health is also negatively affected.
Even natural sources of particle emissions are bad, such as ash from volcanos which cause great harm even which the emissions are relatively low.

To take your example of : oxygen is essential for life, that does not mean that a high oxygen atmosphere would be okay.
19% o2 content is great, 90% 02 content and you would DIE.

Change would not equate higher taxes, though politicians would use it as an excuse to increase them.
But we would indeed have higher costs, the cost of the damage we get away with not paying now.
Less freedom? Yes, less freedom to get away with continued lack of accountability for our actions.
Do you see the laws against theft, rape and murder as a lack of freedom?
Not for victims…

If Open-Mind is truly an attribute of yours and not just a label – Think this way —- Climate change or global warming is debatable, and humans can debate it until we are extinct. Truly, it may just be the Earth’s natural cycles, or we humans can be giving those cycles a bit of a push. You decide – if you’re partly wrong, you’re ancestors still may suffer right alongside those who were more right. To positively adjust your focus – look at our situation in another way. We all breathe, and I assume you and your family do as well. Nearly everyone with a brain admits we spend hundreds of billions per year militarily to insure our access to sources of foreign crude. Ask yourself is this is truly the path we should continue. We are vulnerable to every burp and protest that occurs in the Middle East, Africa, Central and South Americas. Since you breathe, and you love your family, and you are above average in intelligence – you understand that injecting steam into the earth to extract oil is very inefficient and takes much more energy than the traditional ways of mining oil. You recognize that well-to-wheel,… Read more »

Wow, you and David really addressed a lot of new topics. But lets focus on CO2 and your first statement:

“Climate change or global warming is debatable, and humans can debate it until we are extinct. Truly, it may just be the Earth’s natural cycles, or we humans can be giving those cycles a bit of a push.”

Sounds nice, but according to you I’m an “A**hole” if I debate the point. And according to David, I’m akin to those committing “rape and murder”. And EVNow says I’m a “denier”. And Al Gore says I’m “anti science” and “the debate is over.”

Regardless … just repeating one’s opinions is not debate. Nor is name calling. Actual debate requires evidence and facts. Like showing that most U.S. surface temperature stations are readings several degrees hot:

That alone could account for all apparent temperature increases. You know … that curve that’s been flat the last fifteen years?

Lots more counter-evidence, but I would be wasting my time providing it. You could easily google it if you wanted to. Rather than debate your climate change religion, I would rather focus on the superiority of EV technology. Have a nice day.

Uh, Open-Mind: you need to reconsider your moniker.

“History is littered with big companies that ignored innovation that was coming their way because you didn’t know where you could be disrupted.”

Sadly, this immediately made me think of two once power-houses based in nearby Rochester, NY – Kodak and Xerox. That statement applies equally well to them both. I won’t rehash their stories here, though.

GM is right to be concerned, but corporate espionage is a shameful way of dealing with the threat. Do your own homework, make your own products, and let them stand on their own merit. The writing is on the wall wrt the future of transportation, and it doesn’t say “Hydrogen”.

GM invented the “skateboard” chassis and modular future car. They showed off it’s glory nearly as much as they did the “Impact” internationally on the auto show circuit in lead-acid, NIMH and Hydrogen fuel cell iterations. Naturally – most of the people responsible for these tech wonders are not at GM any longer. The skateboard concept was deemed to expensive and became the lifeblood of current Model S. GM is capable of many things – look at the Volt! Akerson is a newcomer to GM. Read Bob Lutz’s book, Car guys Vs. Beancounters. The unions and beancounters are winning back GM. Gone is Volt’s transparency… Yet my instincts tell me it’s not due to company secrets, but the shameful truth that ELR is basically what they came up with to try to make some profit on Voltec. It’s pathetic, actually. Logic tells us that Volt V2.0 cannot make ELR look pathetic, so it just may dump cost by losing attributes like it’s 40 mile range. Give it a 3 seat back seat and 20 miles AER and call it a Fusion Energi competitor. This is where I am beginning to lean – I hope I am full wrong here! Before… Read more »

Big companies like GM are powerful tools for the rich and infamous to abuse. Even the unions do it. Gone are the days where they fought for workers rights; now they pander to ignorant labourer with promises of privilages and money for nothing, because that gives the union bosses the same kind of power as company executives.
And power and the wealth that go with it is what the game is about.

I am not anti-labourer nor anti-wealth, just anti-corrupt behavour and deception.
There are basically two ways to become wealthy:
serve others and reap the rewards = earn money
pretend to serve others and take their wealth = get money

GM is suffering from ‘big company-itis’, which explains their behaviour.

What union bosses? What power? Anyone who has to work for a living has had no real power in this country since the “conservative revolution” of 1980. If Unions had power, there would not be over a decade of stagnant wages, nor would there have been financial regulation lapses causing bubbles that are burst on the back of the very people unions represent.

If I were managing any of the big 3 auto makers, I would have a heart to heart talk with my dealers. Then I would start making plans to offer a similar service to offer an online option. We will see who embraces the inevitable, or who decides to fight and most likely loose.

I bet the GM-Task-Force will finally come to the conclusion that it wasn’t a good decision to kill off their high-tech EV1 from the late 1990s. That left a vacuum which Tesla is filing greatly.

You’ve got to be joking…. get over it. Update yourself to this century, why don’t you. The EV1 is long gone and of another era which went nowhere.

GM’s worry is much less about the hardware – the car – and much more about the revolutionary ideas Tesla is pursuing that are behind it – how it is made, how it is sold, how it is supported after the sale. Tesla is turning what seemed impossible into possible and could be on their way to redefining how things are done, and that is what concerns the bigwigs in the auto business.

Well it’s good that GM are worried, I’m a bit concerned they lost some of the “Drive” to innovate and accelerate the kind of car which car guys expect when Bob Lutz retired.

It goes from innovation – exceeding the expectations of the customer and delivering quality and reliability. This means not counting the cents when customer expect you to spend up in certain areas of value they perceive in the car – which may be years later. That’s what reputation and repeat customers are all about.

Lets face it on the high tech EV front GM with my Volt is unlikely to enhance anything with an upgrade vs Tesla continues to develop updates / improvements to their cars as a fresh (yet more financially risky approach) – but Tesla is gain points on this one alone, there are many other examples.

Competition is good when the consumer wins with better EV’s.

The other thing the older manufactures forget – it’s not just about initial assembly, better design in total = easy service operations and happier customers!