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Cadillac vs. Tesla: the electric luxury fight of the century

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Cadillac's ELR plug-in hybrid could just be the beginning of the GM vs. Tesla battle.

It could be the the fight of the century: the General Motors, biggest of the ‘Big Three,’ vs. Tesla.

Cadillac aims to compete directly with Tesla Motors, this according to the General Motors CEO.

“If you want to compete head-to-head with Tesla, and we ultimately will, you want to do it with a Cadillac,” GM CEO Dan Akerson said in an interview with Detroit News at a Washington event.

Akerson said GM considers Tesla a worthy opponent because it has established itself as a brand.

The Palo Alto-based Tesla has so far defied the bad luck of other automotive startups, winning a slew of awards, paying back its $465 million in Department of Energy loans nine years early, and turning a profit (albeit by selling California zero emission credits as well as cars).

With Tesla seemingly here to stay, GM has finally begun planning its counterattack.

GM and Tesla are already set to compete head-to-head with a new pair of electric cars. Both GM and Tesla have promised EVs with 200-mile ranges and price tags of around $30,000 each.

Tesla has mentioned such a car before; the vehicle, tentatively dubbed Model E, could make an appearance by late 2016.  Last week, GM vice president of global programs Doug Parks told the Wall Street Journal that his company was working on a 200-mile EV of its own.

Yet Akerson isn’t fully committed to electric cars.

In the interview, he said a 200-mile range would obviously be an improvement, but it may not be enough to quell range anxiety. That’s why GM will continue to push range-extended electrics like the Chevrolet Volt and Cadillac ELR.

Future Cadillacs could be range-extended counterparts to the all-electric Teslas, offering similar levels of luxury, tech, and performance with the added bonus of an effectively unlimited range. Tesla has a range-extender of its own, though. Recently, Tesla patented its own electric-electric hybrid, which would use an extra battery pack as a range-extenderw.

Normally, the automotive upstart calls out the established brand (think Lexus vs. Mercedes). This time, though, one of the industry’s oldest brands has an upstart in its sights. This should be a very interesting contest indeed.