German automakers (still) planning to challenge Tesla

Tesla Model S - BMW i8

Elon Musk hopes Tesla’s success will inspire other automakers to get serious about EVs. The latest buzz in the automotive press is that he may get his wish, as German luxury brands are rumored to be working on their own EVs to compete with the boys from Silicon Valley.

Automobile magazine reported earlier this month that Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Porsche plan to invest a combined $7.5 billion to develop new EV and PHEV models to be delivered between 2018 and 2021.

The Germans are already taking the plunge into plug-in hybrids. Porsche’s Panamera and Cayenne PHEVs, and BMW’s i8, are available now, and Audi and Mercedes will be launching their PHEV offerings soon.

Tesla Model S - BMW i8  2
BMW i8 and Tesla Model S (via Bram Hilgersom)

However, as some seem slow to realize, the main reason for the success of Model S is that it doesn’t have a gasoline engine. Only a pure electric vehicle can really be considered “competition” for Tesla. When it comes to fielding a pure EV, the Germans’ plans seem to be much more long-range and tentative.

Earlier reports had Audi releasing a Q8 e-tron in 2017, but now Automobile tells us that the company’s first pure EV will be the Q6 e-tron, a “sporty crossover coupe” that “might take up to four years to materialize.”

Autocar reported in October that Porsche was “secretly” developing an all-electric mid-sized liftback. However, in a more recent interview (via Green Car Reports) with the same mag, the company’s R&D chief Wolfgang Hatz stuck the cork back in that bottle of Sekt. “A Tesla is a fine car, but you cannot drive it enthusiastically without losing range or performance too quickly,” said he. “Until the technology offers a solution to those problems, we will not be looking at launching such a car.”

Whatever Mercedes’ B-Class Electric Drive is, it isn’t a competitor for Model S or X. The company’s EcoLuxe project, however, might be a different story. According to Automobile, Mercedes-Benz is planning a family of at least four all-new, purpose-built vehicles, including two crossovers. The first model, known internally as Sport Utility Coupe, is supposed to hit the showrooms in 2019 with a price tag around $125,000, and a range between 280 and 350 miles.

BMW, the elder statesman of German electromobility, is said to have a new sedan (the i7?) in the pipeline that will feature twin electric motors and a range-extending combustion engine. A concept car is expected in about two years.


Sources: Automobile, Autocar, Green Car Reports
Images: Bram Hilgersom/ Flickr

  • Robert Fahey

    Tesla’s rivals are everywhere, and yet nowhere.

  • brian_gilbert

    I find it strange that car companies plan models 2 or 3 years ahead when the technology is changing so fast. Ultracapacitor batteries could take the lead over lithium, driverless cars could mean large driverless zones. Driverless cars could replace trains on rail routes….

  • dogphlap dogphlap

    I think Mr Morris has nailed it.
    To compete with Tesla other manufacturers need both a compelling 200+ mile electric range and something equivalent to the SuperCharger network. So hybrids would not be necessary. BMW has plans for 24kW chargers but they are not in the same league as the 120-135kW Tesla version. To do this means a big financial commitment that no one but Tesla wants to make. And yet a large manufacturer would be in a much better position to install a global high power charging network than a small one decade old start-up like Tesla. They would just need to be prepared to lose money during the build-out phase so as to gain future EV market share.