There has been a recurring theme in reporting on electric vehicles since Tesla Motors rose to prominence. As soon as an EV rumor circulates, finance reporters decide how the product in question would impact the Fremont-based automaker’s prospects, specifically as it relates to its lofty stock price.
Then the games begin. Depending on the car’s specs and price point, the mythical EV will be your run-of-the-mill “Tesla fighter,” a dangerous “Tesla basher,” or a cold-blooded “Tesla killer.” Since the automaker’s stock began its dramatic rise from $40 in April 2013, it has never dipped below $121. (At press time, it sat at $191.) Tesla Model S sales have likewise continued to march forward, culminating in the company’s record quarter at the close of March 2015.
In other words, Tesla is alive and well, notwithstanding the long line of potential assassins waiting in the wings (presumably, with sharpened swords in their scabbards). To get a handle on the group, we present a Cheat Sheet to the EV pretenders and contenders dubbed “Tesla killers” in recent years, complete with a rating from 1 to 10, with 10 being the most likely to whack Tesla and 1 being the least likely.
1. BMW i3
The BMW i3, the funky city car that has garnered the German luxury brand a number of awards (including World Green Car 2014), has some nice design flourishes to go along with 81 miles of electric range, 170 horsepower, and 184 pounds-feet of torque. Each of these stats represents a fraction of the Tesla Model S range (208 to 270 miles) and power quotes (380 horsepower to 691 horsepower). Meanwhile, the BMW ($42,400) is priced much lower than the Tesla Model S ($71,070 for 60 kWh).
Nonetheless, writers couldn’t help but describe the i3 as a threat to the Model S, largely on the basis of it being a BMW and an electric car. Other than those points of reference, there is no comparison between the two. To illustrate the point, Tesla CEO Elon Musk once broke out laughing when an analyst asked him about the i3 and its relation to the Model S.
Tesla Killer Factor: 2
2. BMW i8
Now we’re talking. The BMW i8 has the supercar looks and scissor doors that go above and beyond the Model S in style while putting up 76 miles per gallon equivalent, lower than Tesla 85D kWh (100 miles per gallon) but still respectable. On the performance front, the i8 is capable of hitting 60 miles per hour from a stop in 4.4 seconds using 357 horsepower and 420 pounds-feet of torque. It won World Green Car in 2015 at the New York Auto Show.
The closest Model S is the Tesla 85D model ($87,570) that features 376 horsepower and can sprint from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 5.2 seconds. P85D ($105,670) features 691 horses and can hit 60 miles per hour in 3.2 seconds. BMW’s i8 is a match in performance, pricing ($136,500), and styling, but the green car bona fides are not there. The i8 gets a mere 15 miles of electric range, compared to Tesla’s 270 miles. While Model S is a an electric performance car, i8 is a supercar that happens to be somewhat green.
Tesla Killer Factor: 6
3. Cadillac ELR
Though there was no immediate answer to Tesla’s disruption from Detroit, GM soon put its luxury car division on the job. The result was a pretty new Cadillac featuring the powertrain of the Chevy Volt and the sticker price of a Model S ($75,000). This move perplexed journalists and consumers alike. A Consumer Reports staffer may have had the greatest zinger of all, saying the ELR was “a $75K version of the Chevy Cruze.”
Other than the pricing, ELR has little in common with the Model S. You can drive just 38 miles on electric power while you access a maximum 181 horsepower. Other than a gorgeous interior, the ELR was one of the least formidable challengers Tesla ever saw (or didn’t see). After much hand-wringing over its EV flop, Cadillac officials admitted at the New York Auto Show that the ELR was set to be discontinued after its current model cycle, Auto Guide reported.
Tesla Killer Factor: 0
4. Audi R8 e-tron
When it comes to Model S competitors, the field has either failed on either electric range, power, or both. In the R8 e-tron, Audi has presented a masterful combination of sports car performance and styling with a new benchmark in electric range. The electric R8 features 456 horsepower and 679 pounds-feet of torque along with 280 miles of range. There is no Tesla that can match the R8 e-tron’s battery specs.
As far as drivetrains, only the Model S P85D (691 horses) can match the imposing e-tron motor. So what’s the catch with this Tesla killer? Audi says it will happily build you one — but only upon request — in 2015. Considering the R8 V10 Plus starts at $173,500, there is no telling what the R8 e-tron would run a shopper. Let’s just say more and move on.
Tesla Killer Factor: 7
5. Chevrolet Bolt EV
This one came out of nowhere, which is a good tactic when trying to slay a dragon on the order of Tesla. Furthermore, the Chevrolet Bolt EV concept GM unveiled at the Detroit Auto Show takes aim not at the Model S but at a car that does not yet exist — the Model 3 supposed to offer 200 miles of range at a price near $35,000 (pre-incentive).
GM got the jump on the industry when it released this innovative Bolt EV. Said to meet that mark of 200 miles in range while costing $37,500 in preliminary estimates, Chevy made a huge statement in Detroit. However, we know nothing of the car’s performance (a front where Tesla dominates) while the design (Chevy does i3?) doesn’t overwhelm you. All things considered, GM will have a leg up on production infrastructure and distribution with its EV.
Here’s the problem: Faced with the choice of buying a Tesla and Chevy for exactly the same cost, how many are buying the Chevy?