Impressive as that milestone may be, GM should remember: The Soviet Union beat the U.S. into outer space.
GM's EV moonshot, the Chevrolet Bolt, likely will have a head start of at least a year over Tesla's Model 3, which will have about the same range and price. The Bolt also has a host of practical advantages, including the thousands of Chevy sales and service outlets nationwide. Tesla doesn't have nearly that kind of infrastructure, in part because of GM's lobbying of legislators in Michigan, Texas and other states that have banned Tesla's direct-sales model.
On the other hand, Tesla has the clear edge in cachet, the kind of image among early technology adopters that Chevy can only dream of. It also has more than 300,000 deposits from people drooling over the Model 3's impending arrival, whenever that turns out to be, given Tesla's history of blown deadlines.
The question becomes: How patient will those consumers be when the car they have queued up to buy still doesn't exist even as Chevy starts selling a comparable vehicle at a dealership right down the street?
"I think we'll get some of those people," said Steve Majoros, marketing director for Chevrolet cars and crossovers.
GM has squandered many a lead in the past. Not this time, its executives say. The Bolt is coming out right on time, they point out, with a starting price $5 less than promised and a 238-mile range that tops GM's initial estimates.
"We're here to win. We're here to compete," Alan Batey, GM's president of North America, said in an interview last week. "We're not here to come in second."
Yet many Tesla fans don't see Chevy as much of a competitor.
"You can buy a purse at Walmart or you can buy a Louis Vuitton. They both do the same thing," said Jake Fisher, director of auto testing at Consumer Reports, which lavished early praise on Tesla's Model S before souring on it last year. "The Bolt is so much more of a sure thing. It's from an automaker that has a dealer network and can assure support for it. But the Bolt doesn't have the excitement around it that the Tesla Model 3 does."
Quietly, though, anticipation for the Bolt has been building. Chevy hasn't taken deposits or tossed around splashy numbers as Tesla has, but its dealers say they're hearing more interest as the start of production draws closer.
A manager at one Chevy dealership in Silicon Valley, the heart of Tesla country, said it has more than 500 people on a Bolt waitlist and expects that to grow when people can actually touch and sit in the car.
Chevy got a boost this month from Apple Inc. co-founder Steve Wozniak, who posted on Facebook that he plans to trade in his Model S for a Bolt. "A lot of things wrong with the Tesla model S are done correctly (my opinion) in this car," Wozniak wrote.
GM has yet to detail how the Bolt will roll out. It's likely to arrive first in states where EVs are most popular and extra incentives make the price most appealing.
Batey said the rollout would be gradual, but he declined to be more specific. "We plan to go to all 50 states," he said. "It's not going to happen overnight."
In EV-friendly Salem, Ore., Jeff Shutt, the general sales manager of Capitol Chevrolet-Cadillac, said the information given to him so far indicates that Bolts would start arriving on his lot in January, followed by more sizable inventory in February and March. Shutt said a big factor in the Bolt's early prospects will be whether the leases for it are attractive enough to sway people who are on the fence about a battery-powered car or who had planned to wait for the Model 3.
"Chevy is doing so much better, but Tesla has really built that brand," he said. "Are [people] going to be willing to say, "Yeah, I'm willing to switch to a Chevy'?"
Dave Sullivan, a product analyst with AutoPacific, said that given the less affluent target market for the Model 3, the Bolt could be seen as the safer choice for people who don't have a second or third car to drive to work if their EV needs repairs.
"The peace of mind of having warranty service available is definitely comforting for a vehicle that is more of a mainstream vehicle," Sullivan said.
At American Chevrolet in Modesto, Calif., the Bolt isn't likely to sell in huge numbers, given the long distances that many residents there drive.
But General Manager Jim Halvorson is excited to have a vehicle that can match the capability of the Teslas he sees around town.
"We're in the same game," Halvorson said. "May the best man win."