Its been a rocky road for Tesla during the past year, the automaker struggling to get production of its critical Model 3 under control. But just as the factory in Fremont, California, gets into gear, Tesla is facing a new problem that could prove equally challenging.
Jaguar fired the first shot recently with the launch of its I-Pace battery-electric vehicle. Now, Mercedes-Benz is getting ready to plug in, but rather than target a pricey niche, the electric EQ C crossover the German maker will introduce next week takes direct aim at Tesla’s mainstream-priced Model 3.
And the assault will only accelerate in the months to come, new long-range EV entries popping up at an ever-increasing pace over the next few years to the point that, by some estimates, there could be as many as 100 alternatives in U.S. showrooms by very early in the decade.
The Jaguar I-Pace was one of the first serious long-range alternatives to Tesla to hit market, the electric crossover taking aim at the Model X. Jaguar doesn’t expect huge volumes, though it did announce a deal with Waymo earlier this year that will put as many as 20,000 of the I-Pace CUVs in the Google spinoff’s ride-sharing fleet during the next several years.
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Daimler AG has been teasing its new offering for several weeks with a series of close-ups and interior pics. It will formally lift the cover on the new battery-crossover on Sept. 4. It won’t be the first all-electric model from the Stuttgart-based manufacturer. It previously offered a low-volume – and low-range – version of its B-Class for the California market. This time, it will be pushing for some real volume by driving down cost and pushing range up to what is expected to be more than 200 miles per charge.
Perhaps more significantly, the compact model will serve to launch an all-new brand-within-a-brand, Mercedes-EQ. And, over the coming years, it will be fleshed out with an array of long-range models covering a spectrum nearly as broad as the traditional Mercedes-Benz family, with the smaller EQ A set to follow in about a year.
Together, EQ A and EQ C pose a potentially existential threat to Tesla because they take essentially direct aim at the California battery-carmaker’s volume offering. In fact, they could be all the more deadly because they reflect the broader shift in the U.S. new vehicle market from sedans and coupes to SUVs and crossovers. Tesla has a high-end battery-CUV on the market, the Model X, but the smaller and more affordable Model Y is still more than a year from production.
The EQ C will hit the market only slightly ahead of Audi’s first long-range offering, meanwhile, a crossover roughly the same size as its popular Q5 model. It’s expected to be a bit less expensive than the Jaguar I-Pace, though higher-priced than the Tesla Model 3.
By this time next year, the floodgates will really begin to open, posing an ever bigger challenge to Tesla. Nissan, which had the world’s best-selling EV until last year, recently launched a second-generation version of its Leaf sedan. The new model is a tweener: while offering a roughly 50% bump in range it still manages only 150 miles per charge, but an extended-range battery pack topping 200 miles is coming.
General Motors, until now, has produced the only mainstream-priced Model 3 alternative, the Chevrolet Bolt EV. It promises to add two more long-range offerings in 2019. Though it has yet to offer any details, at least one is widely expected to be a crossover, increasing its potential audience significantly.
Then, at the other extreme, is Porsche, which will launch its first all-electric model, the Taycan. Originally known by the code name Mission E, it won’t be quite as fast off the line as a Model S with optional Ludicrous Mode, but where the Tesla sedan will quickly see its batteries and electronics overheat when pressed hard, Porsche promises Taycan will be able to deliver lap after lap of full performance.
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By the beginning of the new decade, analysts forecast it will be difficult to find a brand that won’t offer a long-range electric model. Ford has, until now, offered models like the Focus Electric, which could manage no better than about 100 miles per charge. It is developing several new long-range offerings. While most will come in at the low end, it’s also working up a high-performance electric sports car currently going by the code name Mach 1 and is expected to be a cross between a Mustang and a coupe-like crossover.
Toyota is building a new U.S. assembly plant in a partnership with Mazda that will see the two Japanese carmakers jointly develop and produce several long-range offerings. Honda, which has a relatively short-range all-electric version of its Clarity nameplate, is also working up a long-range EV.
The electric assault could be particular fierce at the upper extremes. Fiat Chrysler’s Alfa Romeo and Maserati brands have promised to unleash a wave of plug-in hybrids and all-electric models, and they will be positioned as the top-performing models for the two brands, Alfa and Maserati chief Tim Kuniskis told TheDetroitBureau.com earlier over the summer.
Even Aston Martin will enter the fray with an all-electric SUV due out in 2020, and a sedan to follow a year later. Both will be badged Lagonda, reviving a brand that hasn’t been seen in several decades. Going forward, Aston CEO Andy Palmer told TDB last week, all Lagondas will be battery-electric.
Tesla isn’t exactly sitting still. It is working up that compact Model Y crossover, an all-new version of its original Roadster, and even an all-electric pickup – with a commercial semi-truck also in the testing phase.
But Tesla is facing significant turmoil, much of it caused by CEO Elon Musk in recent months, including an SEC probe into his claim of having funding to take the company private. Musk has since backed off on that plan and some experts believe the company now will need to raise more capital to fund its aggressive product program. Musk denies this and insists it will deliver a significant profit going forward.
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Perhaps, but it will have to be looking over its corporate shoulder a lot more in the future as better-funded competitors come at it from all quarters.