Why Tesla Motors Inc. Doesn't Have to Worry About Competition... Yet

There has been a lot of fuss raised about the impending competition Tesla Motors (NASDAQ: TSLA  ) is going to face in the coming years. It's inevitable that the behemoth automakers of the world are going to enter the luxury electric-car market at some point, but I wouldn't write Tesla off just yet.

Introduction of electric cars
When electric cars were first introduced, they were expensive, unimpressive under the hood, and had low travel ranges.

That all changed when Tesla introduced the Model S, which went on to receive the highest score for a vehicle ever from Consumer Reports. It also received the highest score possible by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for safety, scoring a maximum five out of five in each safety and crash category. 

But enough of that. We've already heard this news, what about the competition? It all boils down to one simple concept for consumers: price. 

Specifically, there have been several big-name, luxury automakers entering the electric sports car market. General Motors' (NYSE: GM  ) Cadillac has introduced the ELR vehicle, while BMW (NASDAQOTH: BAMXF  ) has developed the i8. 

Below are the three vehicles, along with the starting price for each:

Vehicle

     Staring Price     

BMW i8

     $136,625

Cadillac ELR

     $75,000

Tesla Model S

     $69,900

Tesla Model S Max     

     $122,720

Source: Edmunds.com, Cadillac.com, and Teslamotors.com

You'll notice that the last vehicle on the list is the Tesla Model S Max. When you go to the company's website and design your own car, you have the option, "Max out my Model S." The resulting car has carbon fiber, more horsepower, longer range, and everything in between -- interior and exterior.

While the ELR hasn't received much "Tesla-killer" coverage, many of the Tesla doubters are touting the BMW i8 as the car that could deal a blow to Model S sales. I can't possibly fathom how that's possible, but have been reading about it more and more often, most recently in a Barron's pieced called, "Tesla Motors: Time to Worry About BMW."

Tesla Model S versus BMW i8
Let's first consider the price right off the bat. For nearly 50% less -- a savings of nearly $67,000 -- consumers can buy the fully electric Model S, the highest rated vehicle ever.

Even the maxed out version of the Model S is $14,000 cheaper than the standard BMW i8! 

Below is a table comparing the two models. Since the BMW i8 is an hybrid vehicle (meaning it runs on both battery power and fuel), I have included the electric only stats, listed in the table as "BMW i8 (e)", as well as the standard BMW i8. 

Specs

       BMW i8 (e)         

    BMW i8

    Tesla Model S Max     

Horsepower

      131

    362

    416

0-60 mph

      *

    4.4 seconds    

    4.2 seconds

Range (miles)

      23

    372

    265

Top speed (mph)

      74.5

    155

    130

*The BMW i8 (e) 0-60 mph stat is only given as 0-60 kilometers per hour. It equates to 0-37.3 mph in 4.5 seconds. Source: TeslaMotors.com, GreenCarCongress.com, and BMW.com 

Remember, this is the starting level BMW i8 and the maxed out Tesla Model S, the latter of which is still $14,000 cheaper. On a purely electric-car versus electric-car basis, the Model S toys with the i8 the way a cat toys with a captured mouse before its inevitable death. 

It's not until you measure the Model S against the i8's full capabilities that the race even comes close. While the Model S trumps the i8 in horsepower and acceleration, it can't beat its German counterpart in top speed or total range. 

Looking at the choices through a buyer's eyes
When buyers are looking at the Tesla Model S, they see a well-groomed sports car -- fast, tight handling, quick acceleration -- all without the fuel. There is zero gas. None. Zilch. 

For all intents and purposes, why pay nearly twice as much for the BMW i8 when you would still need to fuel it, and its performance is roughly equivalent to that of a Model S? 

It makes no sense. If one can afford to shell out $136,000 for a new car, why not pass up the hybrid i8 and buy something like a Porsche 911 or an Audi R8, both of which have similar or better specifications with a lower price tag -- starting at $84,300 and $114,900, respectively. 

Either the buyer cares about fuel efficiency or they don't. That is to say, either they want zero fuel responsibilities, which they get with the Model S, or they are willing to go to the gas station. If the latter of the two scenarios is true, and unless you absolutely love the BMW i8, buying an Audi, Porsche, or other luxury ride makes more sense for the money. 

Final thoughts
While I applaud BMW's efforts in its i8 design -- which is admittedly, beautiful -- the price doesn't make sense given what consumers can buy for either a fully electric sports car or a standard sports car. 

With a starting price of $136,000, the BMW i8 is simply too expensive and lacks too many of the benefits you get with a Tesla Model S. 

Even if it didn't cost nearly twice as much as the standard Model S, the i8's performance isn't head-and-shoulders above it. It would need to be much, much better than the Model S to justify a price tag of that magnitude. 

On-par performance coupled with a staggeringly higher price tag for the BMW i8 leaves the Model S without a main competitor, for now. 

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Read/Post Comments (7) | Recommend This Article (4)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On May 17, 2014, at 10:13 PM, CarFanatic wrote:

    It will be light years before the competition even begins to catch up. They will never match Tesla's range or cost per Kwh due to their battery technology which they have patented all the way around.

  • Report this Comment On May 18, 2014, at 2:40 AM, timlonely wrote:

    The Cadillac ELR was said to be a formidable competitor. It's currently a flop. Current sales level will require 2 years to bring inventory to zero should Cadillac stops making the car. I think that beyond a certain price, buyers expect an outstanding car, not just leather or real wood on the dashboard. They expect innovation, never seen before. Only collectors will buy the i8, same as people who bought the Z8.

  • Report this Comment On May 18, 2014, at 7:41 AM, ToddRLockwood wrote:

    The only reason someone would choose the i8 over the Model S is due to imagined range anxiety. Old habits die hard on certain people. BMW and other manufacturers will continue to use this argument against Tesla in their advertising because it's the only argument left in favor of gasoline or gasoline-backup. As Tesla's supercharger network becomes more dense in North America and Europe, the range anxiety argument will become less convincing.

  • Report this Comment On May 18, 2014, at 8:31 AM, drax7 wrote:

    With tesla, and with your own filling station at home,

    That is Electric fuel, You start the day with a full tank.

    Each home becomes it's own fueling energy station. Moreover if solar panels produce the electricity, you have your own power station too.

    Given the cars performance and low maintenace and safety, and space , why buy anything else.

    If you have not noticed, conceived and manufactured in the USA.

  • Report this Comment On May 19, 2014, at 10:34 AM, Bkenwell wrote:

    Thanks for comments!

    For years, all-electric or hybrid cars have failed to bring something game-changing to the table.

    All the manufacturer has done is make the car electric or semi-electric, and up charge the heck out of it because of lower fuel requirements.

    Tesla turned the electric car market on its head, by offering a state-of-the-art, completely innovative and sexy car into an all-electric beast for a very reasonable price, in my mind.

    Every company who's now trying to play catchup is failing to produce a similar vehicle to the Model S, or is failing to offer it at a reasonable price.

    The i8 is easy on the eyes, but starting at $136,000? Give me a break!

  • Report this Comment On May 20, 2014, at 12:55 AM, jacobschenkel wrote:

    I wouldn't say anyone who has commented here is wrong, but you are missing the core reason why the likes of VW, BMW, Mercedes are not going gung ho after this segment....it is really bloody small. You comments on how many people are really going to by a $136K green peace mobile are exactly right. Tesla to date has successfully captured this segment..completely dominated it in fact....but the size of this segment is in about 5 years will probably be less than 200K vehicles a year...do the math...take $80K per car x 150K vehicles/yr x NI at 7%-10% for a range...x13-15 PE ratio....what price do you get for the stock? this is fool.com after all we should be talking from reality, not the dreams of a bunch of people talking about a car they themselves would never buy

  • Report this Comment On May 21, 2014, at 1:37 AM, Capt601 wrote:

    The supercharger network is the differnece for tesla. All others are simply city cars without their own supercharger network, and no other manufacturer will spend the money to build one out.

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