The Best Electric Car May Be the Best Car Ever Built

Tesla's Model S blows away all electric cars -- maybe all cars, period

Scott Levine
Scott Levine
Oct 10, 2015 at 12:15PM
Energy, Materials, and Utilities

The Model S. Source: Tesla Motors.

Harrowing tales of corporate fraud continue to sweep their way through the auto world, but Tesla Motors (NASDAQ:TSLA) grabbed its own share of headlines last week in revealing its long-anticipated SUV, the Model X. The vehicle has much to prove, joining a product line that features the Model S, the best electric car on the market.

Five tools
Although the baseball season's winding down, fans of losing teams are already anticipating spring and the hope that comes with it -- hope that rides on the backs of rookie prospects, the best of which are lauded as "five-tool players." Evaluating the Model S from a similar perspective, we can understand how Consumer Reports identified the electric vehicle as beyond perfect -- scoring 103 out of 100.

What are those five tools? Let's review.

No. 1: hitting for power
One dimension on which experts evaluate a player's hitting prowess is his aptitude for hitting the ball out of the park. In the auto world, a vehicle's power is judged by its motor and its ability to accelerate. Going from 0 to 60 mph in 2.8 seconds -- less time than it takes to say the name of the requisite "Ludicrous speed upgrade" --Tesla's Model S P85D dominates the competition. How much so? Leaving the EV world, let's turn to the gas-powered LamborghiniAventador LP 750-4 Superveloce Roadster,  whose V-12 engine needs 2.9 seconds to go from 0 to 62 mph. Returning to the EV market, one finds that the i8 luxury EV model -- albeit a plug-in hybrid -- from BMW (NASDAQOTH:BAMXF) also breaks the 0-to-60 4.0-second benchmark, taking only 3.6 seconds. However, that's in sport mode with the assist of the gas engine. Solely operating in EV mode, the car takes 9.2 seconds to hit 60 mph from a standstill.

Acceleration isn't the most important quality for the majority of EV owners. It's more applicable to the luxury market. Nonetheless, Tesla's performance suggests that peers have a long way to go to catch up.

No. 2: hitting for average

Second, a player's hitting skill is evaluated on the degree of consistency. Sluggers are valuable, but a player's lackluster power can be overlooked if the team can depend on him for simpler hits. Likewise, EV drivers will often forsake powerful acceleration for decent driving range. The inability to easily recharge is a significant concern for most potential owners, hence the fear known as "range anxiety." Again, Tesla handily beats the competition. The least expensive option, the Model S 70D, has an EPA-rated range of 240 miles; more expensive models offer greater range. Other EV owners can hardly travel as far on a single charge. The world's best-selling EV, the Nissan (NASDAQOTH:NSANY) Leaf, has a range of only 84 miles. That may soon change, though. Car and Driver has reported that the 2016 Leaf's range will be 107 miles, a 27% improvement over the previous year's model.

Offering models with substantial range may be the key to winning EV owners' hearts. Although there are an increasing number of places where EV owners can plug in, the development of the recharging infrastructure is not the most pressing need in the auto world.

Source: Energy Department.

According to a 2009 government study, most Americans travel 36 miles each day, but facts rarely eliminate deeply held beliefs. Thus, if people fear that a risk of driving an EV is ending up on the side of the road without any battery power, the industry will need to work hard to alleviate those fears. That's no small feat, and it's one that Tesla has mostly conquered.

No. 3: running
Rounding out the offensive skills is the player's running ability, which instills hopes of stolen bases. Turning back to the EV world, let's see which EVs offer any steals in terms of cost. There are a few reasons Tesla's vehicles don't dominate the nation's highways and byways -- one of which is the amount of money drivers need to shell out. Tesla's least-expensive option, the Model S 70D, has a $75,000 price tag. Suggesting that the figure is less staggering, Tesla identifies the actual cost to be more like $57,500 after incentives and gas savings. The company also offers a 36-month lease that requires $6,533 due at signing. The estimated payment for a 12,000-mile-per-year lease comes in at $838 per month. At the other end of the spectrum, the offering from General Motors (NYSE:GM), the Chevrolet Spark EV, which won an Editor's Choice award from Car and Driver, has an MSRP of $25,170. A more expensive trim raises the price to more than $27,000. Here's the rub: The Chevy Spark EV is only available in a limited number of markets. 

For some context, Kelley Blue Book reported that "the estimated average transaction price for light vehicles in the United States was $33,730 in September 2015." There are a number of options for potential EV owners that come in at or around $30,000, so the price of EVs in general isn't cost prohibitive. Tesla isn't content to remain in the luxury market. Back in July, CEO Elon Musk suggested that the Model 3 -- rumored to have a price point of $35,000 -- will be available in about two years. Take this with a grain of salt, though, for the company has a habit of taking longer to deliver on its promises than the dates it initially proposes. 

No. 4: fielding
Turning to defense, the best of players are praised for their ability to flash the leather. For a vehicle, defense comes in the form of safety. And when it comes to safety, it's difficult to find many cars -- electric or otherwise -- that rival Tesla's achievements in protecting its drivers and passengers. On the crash test from from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or NHTSA, the Model S received an overall five-star rating and an equally perfect five stars in every sub-category. Lauded in Europe as well as the U.S., Tesla received the highest rating -- five-stars -- from the European New Car Assessment Programme. Government agencies aren't the only ones that recognize the vehicle's safety features.

Source: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Comparing the Model S to its peers further elucidates the vehicle's superior safety. The Nissan Leaf, for example, earned an overall score of four stars from the NHTSA. Like the Model S, the Chevy Volt earned five stars on the NHTSA crash test, but, unlike the Model S, the Volt didn't achieve a perfect five-star rating in every sub-category. The Ford (NYSE:F) Focus has a similar story as that of the Volt: The vehicle earned an overall five-star rating, but it failed to nap a perfect five stars in every sub-category.

Safety is of paramount concern for most car owners, and Tesla's commitment to it is clear. Whether or not a company is producing an EV, it has its work cut out for it if it intends to challenge Tesla's claim as one of the safest cars on the road.

No. 5: throwing
The last dimension to look at  in a player is arm strength. So, for Tesla, let's "throw" it to the owners and see what they think of the car. Consumer Reports, the independent nonprofit organization dedicated to unbiased product reviews, gauged owner satisfaction in its Annual Auto Survey. Of Tesla owners who responded to the question, "Considering all factors (price, performance, reliability, comfort, enjoyment, etc.), would you get this car if you had to do it all over again?" A full 98% of owners responded "definitely yes." Coming in second place for hybrid and EV vehicles, the Chevy Volt earned an owner-satisfaction score of 85%. Tesla also scored first among luxury large cars; Volkswagen's Audi A8 came in second place with 85%.

Again, the numbers speak for themselves. Tesla dominates both the EV and non-EV landscape.

The Foolish takeaway
According to a 2013 report from Consumer Reports, "The all-wheel-drive Tesla Model S P85D performed better in our tests than any other car ever has, breaking the Consumer Reports Ratings system." In other words, the car is awesome, so much so that Consumer Reports had to restructure its rating system to better accommodate Tesla's Model S score. For investors interested in the space, it's imperative that they understand just how much Tesla dominates its competition. Even though there may be multiple winners when it comes to EVs, Tesla is surely driving away with the title of best electric car -- maybe the best ever, period.