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GM tries to build the Holy Grail of electric cars

A Nissan Leaf electric vehicle.

It's easy to come up with reasons not to buy an electric car. There's the Tesla S, which is relatively expensive. The base price is $62,400. Then, there's the Nissan LEAF, which is less expensive, but the farthest it can go is 75 miles on a charge.

General Motors thinks it has found the solution. The company says it's working on a vehicle that'll drive 200 miles on a single charge and will cost about $30,000.

No word on when that car will be available, but when it is, will GM have better luck than Tesla and Nissan getting Americans to buy it?

To find out, we asked Sasha Strauss, a branding expert and founder of Innovation Protocol in Los Angeles. Strauss doesn't have an electric car himself, but he says he'll be in the market soon.

“We’re all waiting for the right trigger,” he said. “I always drive SUVs, so I’ve been waiting for the perfect car that I can take snowboarding but also drive family around.”

So how can car companies convince Americans to trade in the gas for an oh-so-silent electric? It's not going to be easy. Americans love their cars.

“Car equals freedom," says Strauss. "We all remember when we got our license at 16. It didn’t even matter that it was mom’s old minivan and had wood paneling. It was that freedom.”

“As soon as the car becomes a constraint on that freedom, even if it’s 1 percent of the time, that becomes a draw on us and we don’t want that type of distraction.”

Car makers are going to have to focus on what being a 'green' car owner means for a buyer's image. Kind of like Toyota did when they first came out with the hybrid Prius.

“Once you cross the $30,000 threshold of price in automobiles, it becomes less about the functional value of the vehicle and more about what it says about you in your professional or social roles," Strauss said.

“And that emotional sensation has not trickled into the electric car sector yet. Since this is a disruptive innovation -- this is a whole new type of car -- it’s going to take time for the audience to appreciate this is a whole new paradigm. It’s not just the next car.”

About the author

David Gura is a reporter for Marketplace, based in the Washington, D.C. bureau.

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