British car-maker Aston Martin plans to launch an all-electric version of its four-door Rapide. The company's CEO, Andy Palmer, believes the car will outshine Tesla's (NASDAQ:TSLA) P90D Model S. But is Aston Martin's foray into electric vehicles really as ambitious as Palmer lets on?
Picking a fight with Tesla
"We don't do Ludicrous because Ludicrous speed is stupid," Palmer said unashamedly (via Automotive News) when speaking at the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance, a more than 60-year-old event celebrating beautiful and rare automobiles.
Tesla's flagship all-wheel drive P90D Model S, when in "ludicrous mode," bolts to 60 mph in just 2.8 seconds, putting it ahead of a handful of high-end sports cars with much higher starting prices, and just behind the billionaire-toy Bugatti Veryon. The zero-to-30 mph time for both Tesla's lesser P85D (with "insane mode") and its ludicrous P90D is a mind-boggling one-and-one-third second.
But this sort of speed -- sheer acceleration, that is -- takes a backseat to a different kind, Palmer argues: "I think that the fact that you could drive a few laps of a decent race course or race it around the Nordschleife [famed track in Germany] is much more interesting than doing 500 meters in Ludicrous mode."
Tesla CEO Elon Musk obviously disagrees. While the recently introduced Ludicrous mode for Model S is still too new to the market to fairly judge customer response, the still-super-quick 3.1-second time of Tesla's P85D Model S, with its insane mode, has been a boon for the company's business, and a hit with customers. Sparking hundreds of popular acceleration videos on YouTube, and wowing passengers and test drivers, insane mode has undoubtedly played an important role in driving demand for Model S.
Since Tesla made its first splash into sub four-second acceleration times in October of last year when it launched dual-motor versions of its Model S, vehicle sales have continued to rise rapidly. Tesla's Model S deliveries in the first half of the year were up more than 50% from the year-ago quarter.
A Tesla spokesperson responded to Palmer's remarks about Tesla and Aston Martin's future electric vehicle in a comment provided to The Motley Fool:
Today, Model S not only does 0-60 in 2.8 seconds and corners at 1G, it gets 95 mpg equivalent, and starts at $70,000. It is widely considered the safest car on the road. It will be great to see what the electric Rapide can do.
Comparatively, Aston Martin's current gas-powered flagship Rapide S is 50% slower to 60 mph than Tesla's P90D Model S, and is rated for 14 mpg city and 22 mpg highway. The base price for a Rapide is just shy of three times the starting price for an entry-level Model S.
Palmer's apparent disappointment in Tesla's ludicrous mode is backed with little substance. While Palmer did say he expects the Rapide to boast 800 horsepower, which is higher than the P90D's 762 hp, the vehicle falls short in two other critical areas: range and price.
Palmer hinted the electric Rapide would be priced in the $200,000 to $250,000 range, and that it would have a driving range of about 200 miles. Compare this to the Tesla P90D's starting price of about $118,000, and its range of about 268 miles.
Also, keep in mind this is a comparison of an electric car expected to be launched two years from now to one that is on the road today. Model S, in two years, will likely be better than its 2015 model; the pace of change in Tesla's all-electric vehicles is proving to be far faster than the performance evolution seen in internal combustion motors.
The horsepower and zero-to-sixty time for Tesla's flagship Model S has increased from 416 and 4.2 seconds to 762 and 2.8 seconds, respectively, during the last two years. During this same period, the maximum range for Tesla's Model S line has also increased from 265 miles to about 286 miles.
Aston Martin's plan for its not-so-ambitious electric Rapide reflects the company's lackadaisical view of electric cars as a category. "If you want to keep making V-12 engines, then you've got to do something at the opposite end of the spectrum," Palmer said.
Mandates and incentives are pressuring auto manufacturers to reduce emissions. The electric Rapide appears to be more of a defensive move than an offensive one.
To compete effectively with Model S, maybe Aston Martin's electric Rapide will turn out better than the CEO is letting on -- particularly when it comes to range. Or perhaps the Rapide will make up for lower range and a steep price with performance. Whatever the final specs are for Aston Martin's electric Rapide, the Model S is setting a tough standard to beat.
In the media, the capabilities of Tesla's vehicles today are frequently subject to comparisons of future electric vehicles from other manufactures. The same narrative occurs with comparisons of the potential of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and hydrogen filling stations to Tesla's existing vehicle technology and its fast-growing charging infrastructure today. But at the rate Tesla is innovating, building production capacity, and increasing sales, it's only a matter of time before automakers are forced to start bringing to market electric vehicles that can be compared fairly with Tesla's vehicles.