German Automakers Ready Tesla Rivals


2012 will go down as the year automakers finally started taking electric cars seriously, thanks to Elon Musk and the Tesla Model S. The impact Tesla has had on the luxury car market hasn’t gone unnoticed, and Germany’s four major luxury automakers are all preparing competitors to the Model S and Model X, reports Automobile Magazine.

Audi has already fired the first salvo, promising a 300-mile all-electric sedan that will debut at the Detroit Auto Show next month. It will be joined by a slew of plug-in hybrids like the new Audi Q7 diesel plug-in hybrid, as well as the Audi R8 e-tron.

There’s also rumored to be a Q6 e-tron crossover coupe in the works with a similar plug-in hybrid drivetrain, but this one starts at 300 horsepower and could see power numbers north of 500 ponies, positioned as a more versatile option to the Model S. Don’t expect the Q6 e-tron to arrive before 2017 though, along with an Audi Q8 e-tron as a rival to the Model X.

Despite talks between Musk and BMW, the Ultimate Driving Machine brand has a Model S challenger in the works that will likely be named either the i5 or i7 (though it could also be hydrogen-powered according to other rumors). Like Audi, BMW plans to focus on plug-in hybrids at first, with the i8’s drivetrain possibly brought over to power this new sedan, which will be based on the long-wheelbase 5 Series built for China.

But BMW will add a second electric motor, and the gasoline engine will join the symphony of power above 40 MPH. Electric driving range is expected to be in the area of 80 miles, with the gas-powered range-extender able to add additional mileage. The target date for sales is 2017, with a price around $100,000. BMW has done well with their plug-ins so far, and they’re not taking the threat from Tesla lightly anymore.

Then there’s Porsche, which was one of the first brands to get with the plug-in car hype. It already offers hybrid versions of some of its best-selling models, but Porsche plans to go whole hog into plug-in cars over the next few years. This includes a 2+2 sports cars tentatively named the 717 (or the Pajun) with a pure-electric drivetrain offering 400, 500, and 600 horsepower configurations.

The 717 is likely to be based on a shortened Panamera platform, which saves on engineering costs but presents battery placement issues. So rather than use a flat, floor-mounted battery though, Porsche may end up cramming energy cells into any free space it can find in order to reach a proposed 300 miles of driving range. Unfortunately, the earliest the Porsche 717 could hit the market is 2019, and by then a second-generation Tesla Model S should be ready to debut if it hasn’t already.

But the biggest threat to Tesla may be Mercedes-Benz. Mercedes is investing some $2 billion to finance a new line of purpose-built electric vehicles with rear-wheel and all-wheel drive configurations, despite saying there’s no money to be made in EVs. The goal is to totally blow the Tesla Model S and Model X out of the water when it comes to performance, and Mercedes is anticipating sales in excess of 80,000 units a year.

This new line of electric vehicles, internally known as the Ecoluxe program, will begin to arrive between 2019 and 2021 with ranges of between 280 and 350 miles per charge and up to 600 horsepower. That doesn’t even include plans for a slew of plug-in hybrids that can offer up to 60 miles of electric range before switching over to conventional engines.

To be honest, none of these sound like vehicles Tesla needs to worry about just yet, especially with the timeline placing the closest rival at least two years out. Don’t count the conventional auto industry out though; it may take another couple of generations to catch up to Tesla, but it seems Germany’s luxury brands are finally taking Tesla for the threat to their business that it is.

Christopher DeMorro

A writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to HEMIs, can be found wrenching or writing- or else, he's running, because he's one of those crazy people who gets enjoyment from running insane distances.