Future electric cars are being weighed in the balance as America’s smallest production electric car maker – Tesla Motors – is goading at least one of the two largest global automakers into giving chase.

We’ve already seen how Toyota is for now essentially sitting out the race for mass-market EVs, and GM for now also has negligible competition with its Spark EV sold in two states, but GM’s Chairman, Dan Akerson said GM will run strongly against the Silicon Valley provocateur.

These revelations came from Akerson on the sidelines of an event last week in Washington reported by the Detroit News.

There Akerson divulged he turned away billions in government loans to develop EVs a couple years ago but now he hinted at what may be Chevrolet EVs to come, as GM ultimately develops Cadillacs to take on Tesla at the top level.

“If you want to compete head-to-head with Tesla, and we ultimately will, you want to do it with a Cadillac,” said Akerson.

Whether GM’s competition will be the Chevy Volt-based Cadillac ELR or another possibly more-potent and more rarefied electrified Cadillac to come as hinted, little was said to clarify, but Akerson did say the ELR has at least some of the goods.

“I do think when the (Cadillac) ELR comes out late this year, early next — it’s certainly in the same postal code as Tesla, but now we’re going to move up,” Akerson said. “It’s not going to be a mass-produced car.”

Akerson confirmed also that it is indeed working on a low-cost EV, and while not saying so, this is speculated to be a Chevrolet all-electric product as it would be priced close to the all-electric Spark and extended-range electric Volt.

Chevy Spark EV.

Chevy Spark EV.

But while GM has assigned a small team to study Tesla and says it can do anything Tesla can, Akerson betrayed far less confidence in the ell-electric future than is brimming from Tesla’s visionary Elon Musk.

“I’m not convinced that an all-electric car is the panacea that I think the American public wants,” said Akerson. “What we see on the line of sight is a 200-mile battery car, but at the same time 200 miles is great, but it’s not going to satisfy the range anxiety that persists,” Akerson said.

“It’s still a major issue with the purchasing public,” he had said of range anxiety, “and I think you’ve got to have a generator on board so that you basically have unlimited range.”

Nonetheless, Musk reportedly tweeted not long after news of GM’s inexpensive 200-mile EV-to-be that had initially been spoken by executive Doug Parks.

“Am happy to hear that GM plans to develop an affordable 200-mile range electric car. Right target. Hope others do same,” tweeted Musk.

Musk likely means it too. While he may have egalitarian and society benefiting inclinations in wishing the world’s automakers would compete with his small firm, Tesla ultimately has more to gain than lose, or so goes the gambit by the entrepreneurial mindset.

A concept ascribed to by Silicon Valley techies surrounds “diffusion” theory which speaks of how quickly a new technology is adopted into the mainstream. If GM and “others do same” as Musk hopes for, that will mean more deep-pocketed automakers aiming for the same target Musk and company are.

That will be good news for Tesla in 1) validating its vision, and because 2) diffusion theory says a given technology is accepted sooner with more entities pushing for it than fewer.

With more automakers marketing the many benefits of EVs and competing for customers, this will grow the general EV market faster, or so goes the theory.

Undoubtedly the master plan for Tesla is to win in the competitive foray even as it welcomes more to run the race along with it.

But while Akerson said GM plans to run with Tesla, not as clear is Akerson’s reason for an executive decision made in January 2011 – one of his first important ones after taking his position – to withdraw GM’s application for as much as $14.4 billion in low-interest Energy Department loans for electric and fuel-efficient vehicles.

“I turned down all of the loans for electric cars and for advanced propulsion. I just said, ‘We’re done with that,’ ” Akerson said.

So GM was “done with that” two years ago, and just after launching the Volt, but it’s now thinking about developing EVs just the same?

Was Akerson’s decision to turn down government-backed loans influenced also by the fact tha GM had already taken money in restructuring? Akerson did not say.

Nor did he say when the next generation of the Volt will be introduced or launched.

Tesla Model S.

Tesla Model S.

He did however rub Tesla’s nose in things a bit as he said the Volt would be less of a sacrifice for GM than the Model S is for Tesla.

“We’ll sell more Volts and lose less money on the Volts than they’ll lose on the Model S,” Akerson said.

It may be that Tesla could lose ground in a sales race against a determined GM, but the Detroit automaker had better bring something more than an ELR to a drag race, or there the Model S will not “lose” even if GM is influential in the marketplace.

The all-electric Model S is a superb car and the quicker versions clock 0-60 mph in 4.2 seconds, In contrast, an “extended-range electric” ELR might be good for 7-8 seconds having received a bit of tweaking over the Volt’s stock architecture.

But with Akerson hemming and hawing over the viability of all-electric cars – and its present low-level commitment speaking even louder – we shall see what kind of competitive cars GM develops a few years from now to knock Tesla down a peg, if it can.

The Detroit News