As we’ve brought up before at Autos Cheat Sheet, Tesla has grown from an obscure startup to the automotive boogeyman in under five years. That in itself is extraordinary, but what makes it even more special is that it’s been accomplished on the strength of just one model so far — the Model S. And by next decade, the company hopes to be selling 500,000 cars a year – on the strength of probably four models. Compare that to a company like BMW, and its lineup of 20-something cars, and it further illustrates just how ambitious this goal seems.
Ambitious, but not unrealistic. With the Model X rolling out to customers this month, Tesla now has a premium SUV to compete in that ever-growing segment. By 2018, company chief Elon Musk has announced that a next-generation Roadster will be arriving in Tesla stores, and returning the company Tesla to its start-up roots. But the big one will the the Model 3, an entry-level series that will encompass both a compact car and a crossover. The BMW 3 Series-sized Tesla is expected to have a range of at least 200 miles, cost $35,000 before tax incentives (which plunges the price well into the $20k range), and is set to hit the road in 2017.
Naturally, the prospect of Tesla taking half a million car buyers out of the equation every year is terrifying to the powers that be, and ever since the Model S was released in 2012, the big guns have been scrambling to release a “Tesla killer,” the silver bullet that knocks that ambitious upstart back where it belongs. Trouble is, nothing has worked. Cadillac tried first with the ELR, a $75,000 hybrid based on the Volt, but it was far too expensive for what it was. BMW has made waves with its electric i3 city car and hybrid i8 supercar, but neither are as practical or versatile as the Model S.
After this month’s Frankfurt Motor Show, however, it seems like things could change very soon. With Tesla having been around the block by now, the old guard is beginning to figure out what makes it tick, and pretty soon, there really might be a Tesla Killer or two on the loose. Here are 7 upcoming models that that just might be able to go toe to toe with Tesla.
1. Audi Q7
When Tesla’s Model X rolling out to presale customers within the next few weeks, it will have the electric SUV market entirely to itself. But Audi is close to a rugged EV of its own, and it should be at dealerships by 2018. Unveiled at the Frankfurt Motor Show, the “e-tron quattro” concept is expected to go into production as the Q7, Audi’s SUV has three electric motors over Tesla’s two, and its 310-mile range beats the entry-level Model X by 70 miles. Tesla could certainly make up the difference in two years, but from here, the Audi looks like a real contender.
2. Chevrolet Bolt
Chevy unveiled its all-electric Bolt at this year’s Detroit Auto Show in the hopes of heading the Model 3 off at the pass. Similar in size and shape to the current BMW i3 and Nissan Leaf, the Bolt will be GM’s first electric production model in company history. Set to arrive in 2017, GM expects the car to have a range of around 200 miles, and start at $38,000, or $3,000 more than the Tesla. But with GM showing its cards early, Tesla already knows what it’s up against, and could very well find a way to make the Bolt look old before it even enters production. Of all the Tesla rivalries, this is the one to watch.
3. Aston Martin Rapide
Launched back in 2010, the Rapide is the prettier alternative to the Porsche Panamera Turbo – even if it isn’t quite as fast, and a bit more expensive. Still, the V12 powered Rapide is one of the most formidable cars in the world. For its next generation, Aston Martin will release an 800 horsepower electric version to take on Tesla’s Model S. The electric Rapide will probably beat Tesla in the looks department, and maybe even the performance department too (though Tesla seems to have horsepower figured out). But it probably wouldn’t be by much, and with the current Rapide starting at over $200,000, we wouldn’t be surprised if the EV Aston costs twice as much as a range-topping Model S.
4. Porsche Mission-E
Unveiled at the Frankfurt Motor Show, Porsche’s Mission-E concept just about brought the house down. Using technology from Porsche’s 919 Le Mans racers, the Mission-E is a 600 horsepower, all-wheel drive sport sedan with a reported 310-mile range, and a radical 800-volt electrical system that allows the battery to charge to 80% in 15 minutes. If approved for production (and that’s a big if), the Mission-E could arrive by 2019, and give the Model S some serious trouble.
5. BMW i5
BMW’s i3 and i8 are beautiful, radically-designed cars that seem to predict the future of both the city car and the supercar. So unsurprisingly, they scare off BMW buyers who want the most modern hybrid or EV technology, but want it in a more traditional (read: boring) package. As a result, BMW is reportedly at work on the i5, a 3 Series-sized sedan that will be available as both an EV and plug-in hybrid, to artfully bridge the styling gap between BMW’s i-Series cars and current gas-powered lineup. With Tesla and BMW both aiming for the same dimensions with their EVs, expect the i5 (due in 2019) to directly compete with the range-topping Model 3.
6. Mercedes-Benz sedan
Mercedes’s IAA concept wowed the crowd at Frankfurt with its radical active aerodynamics that add 15 inches to the car’s length at speed, and a shape that would make it the most aerodynamic production car in the world. Insiders say that the concept is a preview of the next-generation CLS four-door coupe, but it could really be the Tesla killer Mercedes has been hinting at. In an interview with a German auto magazine earlier this month, the company’s development chief said: “We are working on an intelligent concept for a highly attractive electric vehicle with a range of 400-500 kilometers (228-311 miles),” and added that it’ll be coming soon. Take away the afterburner-like fins on the IAA, which already has a hybrid drivetrain, and suddenly it becomes a pretty serious Model S competitor.
7. BMW i3
BMW’s i3 has been on the market since 2014, and while it doesn’t look like it will see too many cosmetic changes in the near future, it’s likely to receive a big battery upgrade in the next few years, bumping range all the way up from 81 to nearly 200 miles. At $42,400 (before tax credits), it’s still more expensive than a Model 3 is likely to be, but with its rolling-sculpture design and gorgeous interior, a competitive range could be just the thing to make the i3 a serious entry-level EV.
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