Luke Ottaway's picture

Will the first actual Model S competitor come from Porsche?

Though there are quite a few electric cars available today, none are direct competitors of the Tesla Model S. We may see a true challenger from Porsche as early as 2018.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk, when announcing that the company’s patents would be opened to other automakers, stated that Tesla’s true competition is not other electric vehicles but rather the flood of gasoline cars pouring out of the world’s factories.

Though an admirable (and we think accurate) sentiment, Tesla one day will have to actually compete with rival all-electric offerings.

A challenger to Model S

Media outlets are often quick to compare other electric cars to Model S, but none are really genuine competitors to the iconic EV – others currently on the market are either not close enough in price (BMW i3), are plug-in hybrids as opposed to battery electrics (Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid, BMW i8, Cadillac ELR), or just generally are not on the same playing field in terms of performance and range (every other all-electric offering).

That may change in 2018, as Porsche chairman Matthias Muller commented on plans to directly challenge Model S with a purpose-built electric vehicle currently under development in the Porsche research labs, according to German publication Manager Magazine (via Ecomento).

Though Porsche currently offers a plug-in hybrid of the Panamera four-door that starts at $96,100, it is not a true rival of the all-electric Model S. The planned Tesla fighter will be smaller than the Panamera and likely built on that car’s second-generation MSB platform, and will seek to outperform Model S – a tall order, to be sure.

Details are scarce, but Porsche will aim to build a similarly sized car that is lighter than Model S, which can run up to 4,936 pounds in the P85D variant. Given the fact that Porsche generally aims to set the standard for performance, expect the Germans to give it their best shot to exceed the range and acceleration of Model S.

That would seem to require besting the 295-mile range of the standard all-wheel-drive version of the 85-kWh Model S, which is unlikely, and the 3.2-second 0 to 60 time of the P85D, which is also unlikely. A lighter curb weight may give the Porsche superior driving dynamics, however, and a range of 250 miles or greater would be acceptable.

The firm is also developing a “state-of-the-art” electric motor and will likely borrow battery tech from Audi, which plans to launch a long range all-electric SUV to compete with Model X as well as an R8 e-Tron battery electric.

Porsche will be no stranger to electric cars by the time this Model S fighter arrives – the automaker has developed an all-electric Boxter prototype and currently has three plug-in hybrid models: the Panamera S E-Hybrid, Cayenne S E-Hybrid, and 918 Spyder supercar.

The luxury EV market will soon be stacked

If the Porsche arrives by 2018 it may be the first direct Model S competitor to market. Plenty of luxury EVs are in the works, but scheduled production dates are tentative.

Cadillac, for example, has indicated plans for an all-electric vehicle that would likely come on the heels of the long-awaited Chevrolet 200-mile EV, which won’t get here until 2017. The Infiniti LE is tentatively scheduled for 2017-2018, though it may be positioned downmarket from Model S. BMW is developing more vehicles for its i line, but the i5 that is next to arrive will likely be positioned somewhere between the i3 and Model S. Sources recently hinted that Mercedes wants an all-electric Tesla fighter, but don’t count on seeing that before 2021.

The first direct challenger to Model S will be late to the party, however, as the Tesla will have had the market virtually to itself for five years by the time any of the aforementioned vehicles arrive.

It is clear that Tesla has shown the larger automakers that there is a market for a luxury EV, as Model S has been outselling some pretty prominent nameplates here in the United States. The industry’s heavy hitters are mobilizing to claim their share, and by the end of the decade the luxury vehicle market will be far more saturated with electric models than any other segment, which will in turn have a trickle-down effect on the rest of the auto market.

It’s amazing what a small startup is capable of.

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