Since the Model S began to take off a few years ago, Tesla has been the Great White Whale of the automotive industry. To the brass in places like Detroit, Toyota City, and Stuttgart, it’s the great disruptor, the Silicon Valley outsider that’s looming just over the horizon and hell-bent on taking down the CO2-belching, gas-guzzling auto industry one electric car at a time. But despite accolades like Motor Trend’s 2013 Car of the Year award, Consumer Reports’ first-ever perfect score, and this month’s $4 billion jump in the company’s value, Tesla is still in its infancy, and its potential is what keeps it in the headlines, not its sales figures.
While the Model S is one of the most recognizable cars on the road, and the range-topping 762 horsepower P90D is one of the most impressive performance cars in the world, there isn’t that much of a market for an electric luxury car that starts at $75,000 and still has a range that still can’t compete with most of its gas-powered peers. In all, Tesla has sold fewer than 100,000 cars in its first decade of existence, or about as many F-150s as Ford sold in the first eight weeks of 2015. But it is growing fast, and it will be a threat to the auto establishment sooner rather than later.
After years of delays, the company just announced that it will begin the rollout of its seven-passenger Model X crossover on September 29. And on the heels of that announcement, company chief Elon Musk tweeted that the Model 3, the $35,000 (before EV tax credits) mass-market car will be unveiled next March, with production starting in 2017 – provided the company’s $5 billion Gigafactory is fully operational. With all this activity coming out of Silicon Valley, Mercedes-Benz has decided it’s had enough, and has become the latest from the old guard to throw its hat into the ring and try to build a “Tesla-killer.”
Mercedes’ announcement comes just after Audi announced its all-electric Q6, with a 310 mile range designed to best the Model X, Aston Martin announced its 800 horsepower Model S fighter, and Dutch supercar Spyker’s improbable rise from the dead to announce that it’s taking on Tesla’s upcoming Roadster (due 2018). Speaking with German auto magazine Auto Motor und Sport, Mercedes’ development chief Thomas Weber declared: “We are working on an intelligent concept for a highly attractive electric vehicle with a range of 400-500 kilometers (228-311 miles),” adding that it will be coming soon.
While it seems like Mercedes may just be the latest to join the EV scrum, it actually has a significant advantage: namely, a Tesla connection. The company took a 9.1% stake in the American startup back in 2009, eventually borrowing technology for its B-Class Electric Drive, which went on sale in the U.S. earlier this year. While it divested itself of all its Tesla shares last summer, its Tesla connection and profits it made selling its stake leads us to believe that development on Mercedes’ Tesla-fighter is probably further along than its rivals. Unlike Tesla, when Mercedes says soon, it might actually mean it.
In short, Tesla is the auto world’s equivalent of that fire-balling pitching phenomenon that just made the majors. After just three years in an industry that’s been around for roughly 130, it’s still leaving the big guns swinging, missing, and wondering what the hell just blew by them. Like any all-star however, there’s a reason why the big automakers are at the top, and sooner or later they’ll figure out how to strike back against the rookie. But here’s the curveball: in Tesla’s case, even if it loses, it ultimately wins. Elon Musk has always said he wants to replace gas-powered cars with EVs, not with just Teslas. So Mercedes; GM, BMW, Spyker, Nissan, Aston Martin, Audi, and others would like to welcome you to the Tesla-hunters club. Here’s hoping your new EV sells well.
Follow Derek on Twitter @CS_DerekS
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