Tesla Faces Challenges From Mercedes, Porsche and Audi

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Germany’s three top automakers have not been asleep while upstart Tesla Motors Inc. (NASDAQ: TSLA) proves that there is a market for a luxury version of an all-electric car. Daimler’s Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, and Volkswagen’s Audi are all working on electric cars that could reach the market by late 2017.

According to an article in Manager Magazin (in German and translated by Google Translate), Porsche will build an all-electric based on a smaller version of its four-door Panamera. The electric version may not be available until 2018, however.

Audi has chosen to fight Tesla’s Model X, the SUV that is due out from the California company next year. The range on the Audi Q8 e-tron would be more than 400 kilometers (about 250 miles) and the company’s CEO thinks it might be available by the end of 2017.

Daimler sold its 4% stake in Tesla just last week and said at the time that it was “reorganizing its cooperation” with the company. According to Manager Magazin, Mercedes does not have an automobile architecture that can accommodate the large batteries necessary to provide a range greater than 400 kilometers. That means an all-electric Mercedes E-class or S-class car would likely not be available until 2021.

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Mercedes already sells an all-electric B-class model and the diminutive smart car. The B-class car’s estimated range is just 115 miles and the smart car’s is less than 70 miles.

BMW has already released two hybrid electrics, the i3 (a competitor to the Mercedes-Benz’s smart car) and the new i8 that uses a gasoline engine to power the rear wheels and an electric motor to power the front. On battery-only power, the car’s range is just 14 miles, but the i8 is a real beauty. Oh, and it sells for just $136,500.

Tesla should be able to hold onto its one-of-a-kind label for a few years yet. When the Germans finally get their electrics out the door, Tesla might have the least expensive all-electric car on the market.

Tesla’s stock closed at $235.24 on Friday, in a 52-week range of $116.10 to $291.42.

We note, too, the announcement on Saturday from Toyota Motor Corp. (NYSE: TM) that it has sold a portion of the 2.4% stake it has owned in Tesla since 2010. The Japanese company did not specify how many shares it sold, only that the sale was part of its regular investment portfolio review. Toyota has lately been touting fuel-cell cars, although its Prius remains the best-selling hybrid in the world.

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