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Is Tesla going to copy the GM Volt?

An exec at the all-electric car company praises the gas-electric GM Volt. What gives?

Tesla Motors helped bring the concept of the all-electric vehicle back from the dead, but it appears they also have gas on their minds.

Speaking at the ThinkGreen conference in San Francisco, vice president of finance Mike Taylor told an audience that the GM Volt is "a really good way" of extending the range on electric sedans in a cost-effective way.

The Chevy Volt concept car
The Chevy Volt concept car Sarah Tew/CNET Networks

The Volt, planned to come out around 2010, contains a gas engine and an electric motor. The car runs on the electric motor and the gas engine recharges the battery. These sorts of vehicles, called range-extended electric vehicles, cost less than pure electric vehicles because the battery, one of the most expensive components in an electric car, is comparatively small. The Volt's battery will only carry a car 40 miles before it needs a recharge. Because it uses onboard recharging, though, the car can go about 600 miles on the freeway. It is expected to cost less than $30,000.

All-electric cars only go 130 to 250 miles before conking out and cost $70,000 to $98,000.

In the hallway, Taylor told me that the Volt is a "really elegant design." Taylor wouldn't confirm whether or not Tesla was actively working on a range-assisted electric vehicle with a gas engine for recharging, but he said that the company "will look at all options."

Tesla will release its first car, the Tesla Roadster, in 2008. It will cost $98,000 and be aimed at sports car owners. The company hopes to come out with a sedan, code-named Whitestar, in 2010. Established car companies, including Nissan, will have electric town cars and sedans out in the 2010-2012 time frame. Although these large companies started on their electric car concepts later than Tesla, they have advantages because of their size and experience. Competing against established manufacturers, particularly when it comes to cost, is a big problem for the plethora of electric car start-ups.

Tesla has said that Whitestar will cost $50,000 to $70,000 but will have a range that is less than 200 miles. The company then hopes to follow up with a less expensive car. Designing these cars around a range-assisted concept would allow the company to drop the price and extend the range. Taylor was vague, but his comments tend to show that the company isn't being doctrinaire in its thinking.

Taylor joined the company a few months ago as part of a reorganization aimed at stemming some of the delays.