2013 Tesla Model S CAPTIONS ON | OFF

The little car company that could, Tesla Motors Inc., is now the domestic leader in electric car sales. The Model S recently surpassed sales of the Chevrolet Volt, a vehicle that led regional sales of rechargeable cars in 2012. This news is an undeniable blow to General Motors, though representatives for the Detroit based automaker remain optimistic.

“Any success for a company in this space is helpful for all other makers of plug-in vehicles,” said Jim Cain, a General Motors spokesman. “The single most important thing we can do for plug-ins, to encourage sales, is to have them on the road.”

The sales ranking for the Model S coincides with Tesla saying it would report a first-quarter profit, the first in its ten-year history. When it releases first quarter results, Tesla expects 4,750 deliveries of the electric Models S in North America – compared to GM’s 4,421 sales of the Chevy Volt. The all-electric Nissan Leaf also expects smaller sales figures.

Despite its high base price ($69,900) and its exclusivity in North America, the Model S has been extraordinarily successful and is a critical darling. Always attempting to outdo itself, Tesla has pledged to sell over 20,000 vehicles this year.

GM sold about 30,000 of their respective rechargeable models worldwide last year, but has declined sharing its volume-targets for 2013.

At the North American International Auto Show in January, retired GM executive Bob Lutz spoke with a hologram of inventor Thomas Edison, who was the former employer and later adversary of Nikola Tesla. Edison was revered for generations while Tesla faded into obscurity, despite the fact that cities abandoned Edison’s dangerous direct current electricity system in favor of Tesla’s safer alternating current system.

Perhaps Tesla Motors success is history’s vindication for the brilliant, but ill-fated engineer, or perhaps Tesla Motors just created a better product. Either way, it’s clear to GM that Tesla Motors is more than a novelty – it’s serious competition.

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By Jessica Matsumoto