06/23/2014 11:55 am ET Updated Jun 24, 2014

Cadillac's Tesla Challenger Is Not For 'Tree-Huggers'

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Cadillac's answer to Tesla's revolutionary electric car is not for tree-huggers.

In a profile published Monday in AdAge, Cadillac’s marketing chief Uwe Ellinghaus said the brand is positioning its new ELR plug-in electric hybrid as a luxury product that won't eat away at sales of the gas-guzzlers sold by Cadillac’s parent company, General Motors.

“Tesla teaches us a message: If you offer cars with an electric drive-train that have superb driving characteristics and a beautiful [interior], they find customers,” he said. “What doesn’t work is to position a car for people who are tree-huggers and green-wash an entire brand.”

To Ellinghaus, successful electric cars are status symbols for the wealthy, not climate change solutions for environmentalists.

“These are not cars for tree-huggers,” Ellinghaus said of Cadillac's ELR in April, “as tree-huggers do not buy new luxury cars.”

His bravado matches the brazenness of the car’s widely panned marketing campaign that trumpeted Americans’ working habits and scoffed at Europeans for taking August “off.”

But it’s that fear of embracing change that may make Cadillac’s path forward a bumpy road. So far, sales of the ELR are paltry -– the 52 cars sold last month brought the total to 293 so far this year. According to InsideEVs, which tracks monthly electric car sales, Tesla sold 1,000 cars last month.

Tree-hugger or not, neither car is really affordable for your average middle-class family. The Cadillac ELR starts at $75,000 and the Tesla Model S starts at around $71,000.

Earlier this month, Tesla CEO Elon Musk freed up most of his company’s patents in hopes of getting companies like BMW and Nissan to build cars compatible with its superchargers, and encouraging more startups to enter the market with more affordable electric cars. He said traditional automakers’ “small to non-existent” electric car investments have disappointed.

“We felt compelled to create patents out of concern that the big car companies would copy our technology and then use their massive manufacturing, sales and marketing power to overwhelm Tesla,” Musk wrote in a blog post. “We couldn’t have been more wrong.”

Tesla spokeswoman Alexis Georgeson declined to comment to The Huffington Post. A Cadillac spokesperson did not reply to a request.

This post has been updated to include Tesla's response.



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