Tesla Draws High-End Electric Car Competition
Tesla Model S Leads the Luxury EV Market
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.
BMW i8 Combines Sportscar & EV
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.
Cadillac’s ELR Rides Into Model S Territory
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
Audi e-tron Show EV Direction
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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By John Addison (5/18/12)
The Infinity LE brings a new level of elegance to the all-electric 5-passenger sedan. Whether gliding down the highway or attracting a crowd in front of a favorite restaurant, the sculpted body and LED lighted grill are arresting. Premium appointments invite the driver to use a new generation of telematics and infotainment. Sexy.
Car expert Nick Chambers states, “The Infiniti LE features lightweight and highly sculptured aluminum body panels that Nissan had to develop a new manufacturing process for in order to create the sharp creases that run along the length of the vehicle. While individual preferences certainly vary, it is almost unarguable that the LE concept is a much better looking vehicle than the Leaf.”
For the American market, the new Infinity LE will be made in Tennessee along side the Nissan LEAF. The Infinity LE will use Nissan LEAF’s proven all-electric drive system with 24kW of lithium batteries for a 100-mile range. The new Infinity will have a larger 100kW electric motor with 134-hp and 240 lb-ft of torque for more performance than the LEAF’s 80kW motor. In the past year, my Nissan LEAF has always delivered needed acceleration, even when taking uphill freeway onramps and needing to quickly reach 70 mph. The Infinity LE will deliver more.
Nissan Motors to Announce 51 New Vehicles in Next 5 Years
Andy Palmer, Executive Vice President of Nissan Motors, plans to announce 51 new production vehicles over the next 5 years. The Infinity LE, currently a concept car, will go on sale in 2014 and probably be labeled a 2015 model year. Price has not yet been decided. When Palmer was asked about Nissan’s commitment to electric cars, he said, “We are all in.” Nissan has invested $4 billion in all-electric cars and advanced batteries and drive systems for hybrid electric-cars. In months, Nissan will open its new Tennessee plant that can produce 150,000 electric cars and 200,000 lithium battery packs annually. Nissan is all in.
Twenty-eight thousand Nissan LEAFs are now on the road. I have driven ours for over a year. It has been problem free for my wife and I. We have never spent more than $35 per month for electricity to keep it charged, thereby saving us over $100 per month on gasoline. First-year sales of the LEAF are greater than first-year sales of the Prius.
The LEAF is a convenient 5-passenger hatchback. We have lowered our backseat to put 2 mountain bikes inside. The Infiniti LE is a sedan where the backseat in the displayed concept cannot be lowered.
The Renault-Nissan Alliance is also delivering in Europe the Renault Fluence all-electric cousin to the LEAF. Better Place plans to deliver 100,000 of the Fluence to Israel and Denmark, where thousands of charge points and battery switch stations are installed and in used to replace empty batteries with full in less than 5 minutes. From vans to luxury sedans, we will see a growing number of electric offerings from the Renault-Nissan Alliance.
Wireless Charging for the Infinity LE
The Infinity LE will include wireless inductive charging as a standard. When a contact plate at the bottom of the car aligns with a companion plate on a garage floor, no-fuss charging can take place. It can charge immediately or when it is programmed to begin, such as when electric utility rates are lowest. The Infinity LE will also be equipped for public charging with a J1772 connector for garage 110v outlet or Level 2 charging at 6.6kW/hour and CHAdeMO DC Fast Charging. The AESC 24kW lithium-nickel-manganese polymer battery will not be switchable.
Electric cars are heralding a new generation of stealth performance, apps that assist and guide us, and the convenience to “fill-up” at the nearest electric outlet. The Infinity LE joins new luxury electric cars such as the Tesla Model S, Fisker Karma, Cadillac ELR, Audi E-Tron Spyder, BMW i8, and Rolls Royce 102EX.
The new Cadillac ELR will combine electric car driving with elegant styling and a luxury interior. GM is moving ahead with the dramatic luxury coupe, shown two years ago as the Cadillac Converj Concept.
The Cadillac ELR will use the electric drive system of the popular Chevrolet Volt. Cadillac drivers will now be able to drive 40 miles on an electric charge from home, work, or charge stations, then go hundreds of added miles when the gasoline engine is engaged. Like the Volt, the Cadillac ELR is a plug-in hybrid with an efficient gasoline engine that normally acts as an electric generator, but at some speeds blends power with the electric motor.
When I took the Volt on a long drive down California’s Pacific Coast Highway, the handling was smooth. The Volt hugged the road through sharp turns. In the hills, the 150-hp electric motor easily climbed steep grades. The existing Volt electric motor and 1.4L gasoline engine could handle the added weight expected for the Cadillac ELR, but GM may decide on a slightly larger engine and/or motor. Stay tuned as the Cadillac is a concept car that is likely to go on sale as a 2013 or 2014 production car.
GM also admits to working on 32 different vehicles with electric drive systems. Not all will be commercialized. Some models will be selected over others. GM will build on the success of the Volt and Ampera, which share its Voltec drive system and lithium batteries. The Volt and Ampera use GM battery packs containing the LG Chem manganese spinel lithium polymer prismatic battery cells. The new Cadillac, right down to its advanced batteries, is made in America.
Easy to Drive, Easy to Charge
The Cadillac ELR will feature an electric propulsion system made up of a T-shaped lithium ion battery, an electric drive unit, and a four-cylinder engine-generator. It uses electricity as its primary source to drive the car without using gasoline or producing emissions. When the battery’s energy is low, the ELR seamlessly switches to extended-range mode to enable driving for hundreds of additional miles.
The Cadillac ELR can be charged through the standard 110 volt outlet found in most garages. It can also be charged at thousands of employer and public J1772 Level 2 chargers. Volt and ELR customers can also use the new GM Voltec Level 2 Charger, sold for only $499. GM has achieved the low price by eliminating redundant smart charging electronics in the EVSE and letting the vehicle manage charging. The ELR will have on-board smart charging which can be managed through the vehicle display, the internet, or with smart phones using a GM OnStar Mobile App.
I was quite impressed with the OnStar App which gives Volt owners the ability to remotely check the battery charge level, available range, tire pressure, remote lock and unlock, and even activate the remote start to heat or cool the interior to your preferred temperature. Navigate the interactive screens of the app, and you can change how and when you want your Volt to charge. You can even set up alerts via text or email to remind you to plug in your Volt, when charging is complete or if charging has been interrupted. The app also provides a single button to access a Volt Customer Advisor who can answer vehicle-specific questions.
Like the Volt, the Cadillac ELR may offer three unique driving modes to accommodate different driving styles. Normal mode is the most efficient setting that takes the electricity and focuses it on operating the electric drive. Sport mode sacrifices a small amount of efficiency for more responsive acceleration, and Mountain mode makes sure the battery has a bigger energy reserve for driving up long, steep inclines.
Chevrolet Volt owners love their new cars. Jackson Browne told me that he has only used 8 gallons of gasoline during the 2,000 miles that he has driven his Chevrolet Volt. Jackson is famous as a singer, songwriter, and inductee in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Felix Kramer and his wife own both a Chevrolet Volt and Nissan LEAF. They are delighted with both. During their ten trips to Lake Tahoe, they took the Volt for under 4-hour drives. The trips would have been overnight in their LEAF whose electric range would have required long stops for recharging. Their Volt has handled the snow. Cadillac, with extensive AWD experience, has not made any AWD announcement for the Cadillac ELR. Another Volt owner, Tom, is averaging 44 miles in electric mode, during his long commute to work.
Next year, you may get the chance to test drive the Cadillac of electric cars. Many won’t wait. The Volt is stylish, well appointed, and has the best OnStar app ever offered. The new Tesla Model S will offer luxury electric car buyers beautiful styling, roomy interior, and up to 300 miles of electric range. Fisker offers a dazzling sports coupe. The Cadillac ELR is likely to gain the enthusiastic following now enjoyed by the Volt and build on GM’s proven electric car success.