|December 31, 2014|
Tesla Motors Model S gets some competition
|This was the year when it became obvious that upstart electric-car maker Tesla Motors has startled and worried all of the German luxury-car companies.|
And now that they're taking the Tesla Model S electric luxury sedan seriously--as well as the expected arrival next year of the much-delayed Model X crossover utility vehicle--Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Porsche are planning to fight back.
The February issue of Automobile magazine has a rundown of those companies' future electric-car product plans, under the dramatic title, "Germany's Plan To Shock Tesla."
The article summarizes what it says are the planned vehicles each will introduce between 2018 and 2021 to compete with current and future Tesla models. They will be priced from $65,000 to more than $125,000, and represent a total investment commitment of about $7.5 billion.
While some details have been known, others are new.
Here's a brief summary:
AUDI: The surging luxury brand owned by Volkswagen Group is already in the process of launching plug-in hybrid versions of its current and future product line. The first to hit the U.S. will be the 2016 Audi A3 e-tron, a plug-in hybrid compact hatchback version of its new A3 compact sedan.
In short order, the next Q7 large SUV will follow--details on that powertrain were released this month--with the A8 large sedan, Q5 mid-size SUV, and A6 sedan and A7 hatchback to follow as each of those vehicles is redesigned.
But its Tesla competitor is expected to be called the Q6 e-tron, an all-electric "four-door coupe crossover utility" with sleek and highly aerodynamic lines that will cost $80,000 to $100,000 and could take as long as four years to arrive.
This vehicle had previously been referred to as the Q8, so it's not clear exactly where it will fall in size.
Automobile quotes power options at 300 horsepower (224 kilowatts) and 400 hp (298 kW), with a 500-hp (373-kW) model in reserve.
BMW: The Bavarian maker of "ultimate driving machines" is far ahead of both Mercedes and VW Group's Audi and Porsche brands in electric-car expertise, with its i3 battery-electric minicar and i8 plug-in hybrid sport coupe now entering their second year of production.
It plans to face off more directly against Tesla, according to the report, with a new sedan--possibly to be called i7--with unique bodywork that's based on the current 5-Series mid-size sedan, but fitted with BMW's new Power eDrive architecture.
That powertrain, however, is essentially an electric vehicle with 200-kW (268-hp) electric motor to power the rear wheels, and a 150-kW (201-hp) front electric motor combined with a 245-hp four-cylinder range-extending combustion engine.
Combined with battery packs of up to 20 kilowatt-hours, the output of these systems will be more than 500 kW (670 hp). The default driving mode is fully electric up to its battery capacity, then range-extended electric thereafter.
A concept car is expected to appear in about two years, though the powertrain was already described by BMW at its Innovation Days event last month. The price is expected to be slightly below $100,000.
MERCEDES-BENZ: While Mercedes now has its B-Class Electric Drive compact hatchback in limited production--along with the Smart Electric Drive minicar--the brand joins the rest of the German luxury makes in focusing first on plug-in hybrids.
It recently launched the new S 550 Plug-In Hybrid sedan (it's called the S 500 Plug-In Hybrid outside North America), and plug-in hybrid versions of the new C-Class and the ML-Class crossover utility (it's being renamed the GLE-Class, by the way) will follow.
But apparently parent company Daimler has now bitten the bullet and gotten as serious as BMW about plug-in electric cars, with a new family of dedicated electric vehicles on their own architecture, referred to as the EcoLuxe project.
There will be four vehicles altogether, says Automobile: two sedans, and two crossover SUVs.
Starting in 2019, the first would be a large all-electric sport-utility vehicle with low, coupe-like styling and five or seven seats. A price tag starting at $125,000 indicates it would be aimed directly at the Tesla Model X, which by then would be entering its fourth full model year.
Following that will be what Benz may call a "sport utility sedan," with front and rear luggage compartments and a third row of rear-facing popup seats in the rear compartment.
By 2021 or so, smaller and more conventional sedan and crossover utility models would follow, completing a four-car portfolio with ranges of 280 to 350 miles and a variety of motor power options.
Range-extended electric cars could be derived from this architecture as well, with up to 60 miles of electric range and a four-cylinder combustion engine for trips of several hundred miles.
PORSCHE: Newly owned by Volkswagen Group, Porsche must now contend with corporate politics and group platforms--and some would argue it's the brand most directly affected by Tesla's surprisingly fast and sporty Model S.
It's said to want to develop its own sedan, smaller than the current Panamera, that would use an all-electric adaptation of the architecture that will be used for the next Panamera and other large VW Group luxury vehicles.
Adapting the car--potentially called the 717--from a gasoline architecture would require small battery packs installed in a variety of locations, rather than the Tesla's single, large, flat battery under the floorpan.
Automobile notes that the "provisional launch date of early 2019" may be real, or perhaps only wishful thinking.
And indeed, a report in Autocar just two weeks ago appears to contradict the supposed Porsche plans, quoting Wolfgang Hatz--Porsche's research and development manager--dismissing pure battery-electric vehicles.
The brand will instead concentrate on its growing lineup of plug-in hybrid vehicles, Hatz told the British magazine, dismissing the idea that it was developing a direct competitor to the Tesla Model S.
He said that until technology offers solutions to the range and performance limitations of pure battery-electric vehicles, the company will stick with plug-in hybrids.
Which both toes the party line of his VW Group corporate overlords and leaves room for such a vehicle to be introduced at, say, the end of the decade.
Stay tuned; it promises to be a very interesting few years for the German makers.