By Joseph White
(Reuters) - General Motors Co <GM.N> on Tuesday said it delivered its first Chevrolet Bolt electric cars to three customers in Fremont, California, home to rival electric automaker Tesla Motors Inc's <TSLA.O> assembly plant.
This allows the Detroit automaker to claim first place in the race to deliver an electric car that can run for more than 200 miles on a charge and has a starting price below $40,000. Tesla Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk has promised its entry in this new segment, the Model 3, will go into production in July.
Some analysts expect the Model 3 will miss that target. The production plan calls for a substantial overhaul of Tesla's Fremont assembly plant, which was once a General Motors factory.
Tesla has said the starting price would be $35,000, although it expects the average sales price to be about $42,000.
The Bolt, which GM developed with South Korean battery maker LG Chem <051910.KS>, has a 238-mile driving range on a charge and a starting price of $37,495 before tax breaks.
Rival automakers, including Japan's Nissan Motor Co <7201.T> and Germany's Volkswagen AG <VOWG_p.DE>, Daimler AG <DAIGn.DE> and BMW AG <BMWG.DE>, have indicated they are developing similar electric vehicles with a driving range of about 200 miles.
GM has been cautiously ramping up Bolt production at its suburban Detroit factory. Suppliers and people familiar with the program say the initial production pace indicates plans for 20,000 to 30,000 Bolts a year.
However, company officials said the plant could build more. The Bolt is specifically designed to be a battery-electric vehicle, and could form the basis of other electric vehicles, company officials have said.
By contrast, Tesla has outlined ambitious plans to make as many as 500,000 Model 3s annually, more than five times its expected vehicle production for this year. The company has said it received more than 325,000 initial orders for the Model 3.
The Chevy Bolt and a similar model GM plans to offer in Europe are functional, small hatchbacks. Executives have said the Bolt is well-suited for such ride-service companies as Lyft, in which GM owns a stake.
Executives have said GM eventually plans to offer self-driving Bolts.
Prototypes of the Model 3 displayed by Tesla suggest that car will be aimed at compact, German luxury sedans such as the Audi A3 or A4, or the Mercedes-Benz CLA or C class.
(Reporting by Joe White; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and Alan Crosby)