Tesla Draws High-End Electric Car Competition
Early on, in spite of the high volume of positive press and spectacular performance claims, the Tesla Model S was largely ignored by mainstream auto makers. the world’s first mass production luxury electric car was a sensation in Silicon Valley, where it was conceived, but the “big boys” in the business were unconvinced that this start-up posed any threat in the market – or would even survive. After all, its business proposition was that it would produce only electric vehicles, starting with a limited production sportscar and following with a large rear-drive sedan.
Nevertheless, two automakers hedged their bets and took a small position in Tesla in order to gain access to its technology. Those two companies, Daimler and Toyota, have since incorporated Tesla technology into their production electric cars, using it to leapfrog internal development in order to get their electric cars on the market sooner than they would otherwise.
Fast forward a couple years and the situation has shifted. Tesla is now producing its cars at the rate of more than 500 per month (still small volumes compared to the major manufacturers, but respectable). The cars continue to gather accolades and are now moving into overseas sales, while Tesla plans for a SUV-style model for next year followed by a smaller, more affordable model the year after that. The major auto makers are now viewing Tesla as a genuine threat and preparing their own response.
Up to this point most of the electric cars brought to market by the major automakers have been small, relatively affordable models. In fact, discounted leases under $200 a month have been one of the tactics that have started moving the sales needle for EVs. Tesla, with its large car and rave reviews, hasn’t had to resort to any promotional marketing as it continues to fill existing and new orders for its Model S, which has a starting price of more than $70,000.
BMW & Cadillac Enter the Market
Taking notice of this well-heeled market, BMW and Cadillac have models coming on the market this coming year while Audi and Mercedes appear to have similar projects in the works based on concept cars they have shown.
But neither of the first two new Model S contenders are all-in on electric drive. Both the BMW i8 and Cadillac ELR are essentially plug-in hybrids with internal combustion engines to augment their electric drive capabilities.
BMW has put its imprint on the i8 with an emphasis on performance. The $135,000 coupe will accelerate with a 96 kW electric motor driving the front wheels augmented by a twin-turbo 1.5-liter three-cylinder gas engines with 170 kW (231 horsepower) at the rear wheels. As might be expected of a BMW, the car is designed to accelerate from 0-100 km/h (62 mph) in 4.4 seconds but will deliver the equivalent of 94 mpg.
Cadillac enters the fray with the ELR, a range extended coupe using the proven Chevy Volt technology, but wrapped in a higher-tech, more luxurious package. The ELR combines a 1.4-liter four-cylinder gas engine with front-wheel electric motors producing a total of 154 kW (207 horsepower) of power. The ELR will run up to 35 miles on electricity alone before the gas engine kicks in. The ELR also boasts advanced chassis tuning with features like Continuous Damping Control that adjusts damping every two milliseconds for optimal ride and handling.
Both BMW and Cadillac are wrapping their luxury electrics in marketing aimed at the same high-end territory that the Model S plays in. Cadillac launches with a Saks Fifth Avenue promotional model while BMW is selling its “i Collection” of sustainable lifestyle products like mobile phone solar chargers.
Mercedes & Audi Ready Models
Mercedes is preparing a potent SLS AMG Electric Drive model that was originally due on the market this year. The all-wheel-drive all-electric sports coupe carries 552 kW (751 horsepower) and is expected to deliver a 250 km range (150 miles) on a full charge. No prices have been announced, but it can be expected to be in the supercar realm based on its specifications.
Audi has show its e-tron, which the luxury arm of Volkswagen views as eventually encompassing a series of models. The first model on the market, the A3 e-tron, was just introduced at Los Angeles Auto Show. But Audi has also shown an R8-based coupe version of the e-tron that would be more along the lines of a Tesla fighter. That concept had four electric motors totaling 230 kW (309 horsepower) driving all four wheels. No production date has been announced, but the movement from BMW, Cadillac and Mercedes is likely to spur Audi into action.
If nothing else, Tesla has spurred more serious activity in the high-end of electric cars than has ever been seen. Its success has other automakers bringing new models onto
the market and promises to boost attention on EVs the same way high-end sports cars highlight attention on some of their lesser companion models. At any rate, it looks like we’re in for some fun, high-performance, luxury electric cars in the near future.
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