Right now, Tesla Motors (TSLA 0.25%) has the market for "premium electric vehicles" all to itself. That has been a boon to its business, but CEO Elon Musk was hoping to start a revolution. He has practically begged the global auto giants to start competing with his upstart automaker. But so far, no direct competitors to Tesla's impressive Model S sedan have come to market.
That might be about to change. This week, Porsche unveiled a concept car that could be a preview of the first direct competitor to the Tesla Model S -- and it's quite impressive.
A 600-horsepower electric Porsche with an emphasis on sharp handling
Porsche presented its first battery-electric road car at the Frankfurt Motor Show this past week. The Porsche Mission E concept looks like a futuristic take on Porsche's iconic 911, but with a twist: It's a four-door sedan.
Right now it's just a "concept car," an idea. Concept cars can be flights of designer fancy or they can be a preview of something an automaker intends to produce in a few years. Porsche has been careful to refer to the Mission E as a concept or a "study," but it has the look of something that could turn out to be a production model.
The specifications are impressive. The Mission E sports an 800-volt drive system with over 600 horsepower available -- and a claimed range of "over 500 kilometers." Reports on Porsche parent Volkswagen Group's (VWAGY -1.43%) breakthroughs with battery technology make that claim a credible one. With all-wheel drive, all-wheel steering, zero to 100 kmh in "under 3.5 seconds," powertrain derived from the Porsche 919 hybrid race car that won this year's 24 Hours of Le Mans, and a claimed sub-eight-minute lap time on the famous Nürburgring Nordschleife racetrack, the Mission E looks to have everything a Porsche enthusiast expects -- except a gas tank.
Fast recharging that beats Tesla's Superchargers
Porsche claims a surprisingly short recharging time for the Mission E: "around 15 minutes" to reach an 80% charge, or about 400 kilometers of range. That's ahead of even Tesla's Superchargers, which can recharge the Model S to about 270 kilometers of range in about 30 minutes. Porsche credits a new 800-volt charging technology for the quick recharging, double the current 400-volt industry standard.
Porsche engineers paid a great deal of attention to weight reduction. Electric cars are heavy -- a Model S weighs almost 5,000 pounds, significantly heavier than most sedans -- but lighter cars handle better, and sharp handling is essential in a Porsche. Porsche didn't say how much the Mission E weighs, but it did note that the new recharging technology was one of several factors that helped cut the car's weight.
If an electric Porsche is to be taken seriously by the brand's enthusiasts, it needs to deliver a proper Porsche experience. That experience starts, always, with superb sports-car handling and braking. Porsche appears determined to ensure that the Mission E delivers on those expectations.
So will Porsche really build it?
As I said, officially the Mission E is just a concept car. But its technology is obviously closely related to an electric Audi concept SUV that is headed for production in early 2018. Volkswagen Group has made no secret of its desire to be a leader in battery-electric vehicles, and it has reportedly spent big to develop the necessary technology.
In other words, Porsche probably could build it. And its corporate parent probably intends to.
Reports have strongly suggested that a battery-electric Porsche sedan is under development for introduction in 2018 or 2019. The styling could change between now and then, but this would appear to be a realistic look at where Porsche is going with battery-electric technology. From here, it appears to be very competitive with Tesla's Model S.
Tesla is still a small company, and it needs to focus on the development of its long-awaited entry-level Model 3. How much will Tesla be able to improve the Model S between now and the electric Porsche's arrival? We'll find out.