Tesla’s stock may be down, its Model X is finally arriving after years of delays, and its 2015 delivery projections may be downgraded, but it’s still keeping the major automakers up at night. Every few months or so, there’s breathless report of the next “Tesla fighter” from a company like General Motors, BMW, or Nissan designed to take the electric startup down – even if it’s sold fewer cars in its 12 years than Buick sold in China last year alone.
While no one has successfully been able to take on Tesla’s Model S – especially in its newest guise, the 762 horsepower dual-motor P90D — companies are still trying to find ways to unseat Tesla from its position as the highest-profile EV manufacturer in the world. Chevrolet is looking to beat Tesla to the pass with the Bolt, a sub-$35,000 rival to the upcoming mass-market Model 3, a target that Nissan is also aiming for with its next-generation Leaf. Long-dead Dutch supercar builder Spyker has just reappeared with plans for a sports car to compete with Tesla’s new Roadster (due 2018), and rather than join the chorus of companies and dealerships crying foul over Tesla’s direct-sales model, Lexus has chosen to emulate it with its own new no-haggle sales program.
While the company expects its upcoming Model X SUV to do great things for the company, Audi has appeared as the next challenger to take on the Silicon Valley startup, announcing that it will unveil an all-electric SUV at next month’s Frankfurt Motor Show, with production likely by 2018.
In discussing its future EV, Audi says that its “e-tron quattro concept is designed from the ground up as an electric car and proves to be pioneering in its segment at the very first glance.” While this sounds impressive, its segment doesn’t exactly exist yet, and won’t until the Model X begins delivery early this fall. The SUV, which Automotive News says is likely to be called the Q6, will have a 310 mile range – 10 miles more than the latest Model S sedan, and potentially up to 70 miles more than a base Model X. With three electric motors (one front, two rear), the Q6 trumps Tesla’s dual-motor system, and could mean that we could have a serious high-performance EV SUV rivalry on our hands by the end of the decade.
As is the style of the time, the company says that a “typical SUV body and flat, coupe-like cabin give the Audi e-tron quattro concept a very dynamic appearance.” Luckily, Tesla hasn’t been referring to its SUV as a coupe. Details are still murky on the Model X, but we know that a range-topping model will have a range close to 300 miles, bears a strong family resemblance to the Model S, and its party trick is the pair of “Falcon Wing” gull-wing doors that open vertically and allow for easy access to the second and third row seats. While the Q6 is plenty striking, there’s no word on whether has Audi has any features that can compete with the Tesla’s Falcon Wings on a pure “gee whiz” level.
While other manufacturers see Tesla as an automotive boogeyman, company chief Elon Musk has long made it clear that he wants to see more competition in the EV marketplace. During a 2013 conference call with investors, Musk said:
“I really do encourage other manufacturers to bring electric cars to market…It’s a good thing, and they need to bring it to market and keep iterating and improving and make better and better electric cars, and that’s what going to result in humanity achieving a sustainable transport future. I wish it was growing faster than it is.”
In a few short years, we’ll have at least two all-electric people movers that could travel from Boston to Philadelphia on a single charge, and – using the Model S’s evolution as a template – may very well be able to put up horsepower and torque numbers that were in the realm of supercars a little over a decade ago. Back then, the idea of EVs becoming this advanced this quickly was nearly inconceivable. We don’t know much about the Model X yet, and we know even less about the Q6, but from what little we’ve got so far, the world of all-electric SUVs is about to get very interesting.
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