Elon Musk says he doesn’t get much sleep these days, as he tries to push Tesla’s production line to increase the number of cars it produces each week. But Musk’s sleep pattern may soon get even more disturbed as rivals around the world start making moves to enter the fast-growing luxury electric vehicle market.
From Munich to Gothenburg; from California to Beijing, they come in all shapes, sizes and valuations. Some of them are self-declared Tesla’s rivals, others are gleefully declared as ones by the media.
Our team of journalists in California, Munich and London examine the high-stake contenders as they rush for market dominance.
The New Species
California is the home to many of the top automotive design studios and also where new tech and automotive companies are racing to market luxury electric vehicles like their neighbour, Tesla Motors.
“I love California. It’s the most diverse place in the world. It’s a great place for automotive, people love design and many cultures stimulate creativity,” Henrik Fisker CEO of Fisker Inc. told Auto Futures.
Henrik Fisker is developing the super sleek Fisker Emotion electric sedan, an autonomous shuttle pod Orbit and working with an automaker on a mainstream electric vehicle. At one point Fisker Coachbuild was a contractor for Tesla. Back in 2008, Tesla sued Fisker alleging that, while making a hybrid design, that Fisker ‘stole’ trade secrets. Binding arbitration found the accusations baseless.
Fisker Inc. announced it filed for a patent for groundbreaking solid state batteries in late 2017 and revealed the Fisker Emotion at CES in January of this year. The logo for Fisker was inspired by the beautiful orange sky at sunset over the deep blue ocean with two perpendicular lines.
“I was looking out at the sunset over the blue of the ocean, back in 2005 and then sketched the logo realising that the designer’s pen and engineer’s ruler must work in careful balance with nature,” says Fisker.
Lucid Motors is another luxury mobility company based in California. Its all-electric model the Lucid Air was first revealed at a private event in late 2016 and then shown at the 2017 New York Auto Show.
The company was founded in 2007 by Sam Weng, formerly of Oracle, to make battery systems. CTO Peter Rawlinson, who led the engineering of the Model S along with Derek Jenkins formerly of Mazda, collaborated on the vehicle design in Silicon Valley. The Lucid Air has cylindrical electric batteries, luxury styling, ‘floating cabin’, a 400km battery range, lounge-like back seats and shared mobility options.
In a blog post, the company claims: “We made the beauty of California a central part of the Lucid experience, creating colour and material themes for the Lucid Air that symbolise specific locations and times within the Golden State.”
Lucid has announced that Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund (PIF) is to invest $1 billion in the company. It says the funding will be used to complete engineering development, construct its factory in Arizona, begin the global rollout of its retail strategy starting in North America, and enter production for the Lucid Air. Elon Musk had previously hoped that PIF would help take Tesla private.
In a press release, Peter Rawlinson, Lucid’s Chief Technology Officer says: “The convergence of new technologies is reshaping the automobile, but the benefits have yet to be truly realised. This is inhibiting the pace at which sustainable mobility and energy are adopted. At Lucid, we will demonstrate the full potential of the electric connected vehicle in order to push the industry forward.”
Designed and made in California is Faraday Future’s crossover SUV, the FF91. The first pre-production vehicle just rolled off the production line in Hanover, California.
The Chinese conglomerate Evergrande Health recently acquired a 45 percent stake in Faraday Future for $2 billion. Touted as an ‘ultra luxury intelligent EV’ with a 482 km (300 mi) range and a 0-97km (0-60mph) time of under three seconds, the FF91 is expected to go into full production next year.
Founder and CEO of Faraday Future, Jia Yueting, like Elon Musk, takes to Twitter to share his thoughts, “I firmly believe that the industry and users will reap the benefits of the ‘new species’ we all worked so hard to create.” Nick Sampson, former Director of Vehicle and Platform Engineering for Tesla, is the Chief Product Architect.
The company pulled out on a deal to build a factory in Nevada and it has lost key executives to other electric car startups. So it’s not all been plain sailing for the U.S. startups.
The View from Europe
When Britain’s Royal Family took delivery of its first all-electric car it was revealed that Prince Charles had chosen a Jaguar I-Pace for its fleet, not, as expected, a Tesla. The Prince, the heir to the throne and a high profile environmentalist, had reportedly test driven a Tesla and hosted Elon Musk’s brother Kimbal at one of his residences. But he opted for the electric Jag instead. The decision gained widespread media attention.
The I-Pace SUV was unveiled in March 2018 and it launched to rave reviews in the UK. It’s been described as one of the first genuine Tesla rivals to be produced by an OEM.
The UK’s Jaguar may have been first to market but the major German marques are now in a race to enter this potentially lucrative sector.
Germany is famous for its automotive industry. The motor car was invented in Germany, many of the best cars worldwide are made here. And the German government decided back in 2008 that one million electric cars should be registered by the year 2020. Ten years later – in 2018 – more than 900.000 e-vehicles are missing from this target.
If you look at the offers for electric cars in Germany, you will find mainly foreign cars. A real EV competitor of Tesla doesn’t exist in Germany at present. For the last fifteen years or so everybody in the auto-world has been talking about electricity and electric driving. Unfortunately it seems that the German auto producers sleepwalked through these developments.
An exception might be the Bavarian car producer BMW with its i3, which is a very small and expensive town car. Its basic price is €37, 500 and the range is between 220 and 300 kilometres. But headlines in national media are more or less critical, for example: ‘BMW i3 sales figures – dealers disappointed’ or ‘Sales of BMW i3 lower than expected’.
Another even smaller car is Daimler’s double-seated e-Smart. It is not a typical electric car, because its body is identical for all driving modes, with diesel or fuel engine or electric power. A real electric car has to be extra developed, as BMW did with its i3 – or Tesla.
Volkswagen is in a similar situation. It offers an E-Golf, the same model that exists with diesel or fuel engine. Moreover the E-Golf has a range of 150 kilometres in the best case scenario, which means driving without using air condition, radio or CD player etc.
On the other hand many startups are trying to develop new electro cars, but the cat is already out of the bag. This is the situation in autumn 2018. But a large offensive of new electric cars from German car producers soon can be expected, because they announce quite often “the next generation of e-cars”.
In September 2018 Dr. Dieter Zetsche, the CEO of Daimler, presented a new SUV with the name EQC. This car will be on the market mid 2019. The EQC will offer sufficient space for five adults and will be a genuine Mercedes-Benz in terms of quality, safety and comfort, accompanied by dynamic performance, thanks to two electric motors at the front and rear axles with a combined output of 300 kW, and an intelligent operating strategy for a superior electric range.
It seems Daimler believes in the future of E-power. During the presentation of the new EQC Dr. Zetsche mentioned that electric drive is a major component in the mobility of the future. “We are therefore investing more than ten billion Euro in the expansion of our EQ model portfolio, and more than one billion Euro in global battery production,” says Zetsche.
Porsche has similar ambitions. The Stuttgart based sports car producer presented the ‘Mission E’ during the Frankfurt Motor Show 2015. Now insiders expect the series production of the first purely electric Porsche to begin next year. The vehicle has now been given its official name: Taycan.
Two permanently activated synchronous motors generating a system output of over 600 horsepower accelerate the electric sports car to 100 kilometres per hour in well under 3.5 seconds and to 200 kilometres per hour in less than twelve seconds. The Porsche Taycan will also offer a consistent level of power that is unprecedented among electric vehicles: multiple launches in a row will be possible without a loss in performance, and the vehicle’s maximum range will be over 480 kilometres as measured in accordance with the New European Driving Cycle (NEDC).
Another interesting development is the Audi PB 2018 e-tron (PB stands for Pebble Beach), a true-bred sports car, where comfort and dynamic is united. If and when the PB 2018 e-tron will be produced in series is still unclear.
However in terms of price and power these aren’t cars for normal people. ‘Good things need time’ is an old German saying. Hopefully the Germans did not take too much time. Elsewhere, the real rivals of Tesla are already at the starting gates.
The Emerging Chinese Rivals
Weilai, an automotive startup better known by its international name NIO, means ‘Blue Sky Coming’ in Chinese. With such a lofty name comes a lofty ambition to free people from driving so gifting them the freedom of time.
While Tesla has flirted with the idea of going private, this China-based producer of premium electric vehicles has fuelled its global ambitions with an IPO on the New York Stock Exchange. It raised $1 billion; an amount that values the automaker at around $6.4 billion.
Founded in 2014 by the entrepreneur William Li, the company already began delivering its flagship electric 7-seater SUV NIO ES8 exclusive to the China market in June 2018. NIO ES8, aimed at middle-class consumers, is all about connectivity and performance. It boasts a ‘world’s first in-car artificial intelligence system’ NOMI and an autonomous driving assistant. It’s currently only available
But it is the business model that might give the company an edge. Not unlike WeChat, which started as a simple messaging app but quickly grew into a hyper network where users can make appointments, pay the bills, book taxis and get almost any need served within the app, NIO plans to create its own network. It’s worth noting that WeChat’s parent company – the Chinese tech giant Tencent – is also an investor in NIO.
By creating an ecosystem with an array of products and services at a touch of a button or a voice command, NIO aims to become a ‘mobile living space on wheels’ which will provide the lifestyle experience beyond the car through its premium service.
It includes NIO Houses which provide a membership club-like experience to its users with spaces to socialise, relax, learn and do business. The mobile app, account system and NOMI not only offer additional services but also capture valuable data about customers. The power service offers a battery swap in just 3 minutes.
“The expectations of Chinese consumers are very high because the market is very competitive and offers plenty of choice. They expect even more from electric cars than they do from the fossil fuel cars”, says Alexandre Nunes, an Associate Director – Vehicle Attributes at NIO.
Locking customers in NIO’s connected environment means that it will be increasingly inconvenient for customers to switch to another brand. Or even better – they won’t want to leave.
There is strong domestic competition. BYD and BYTON are just some of the more prominent local competitors backed by powerful investors. Then there are wider Asian competitors like Vanda Electric which debuted Singapore’s first electric two-seater hypercar Dendrobium.
With growing populations and pollution in Asia there is a big demand for smart urban mobility. China is already the world’s largest EV market with 336,000 registrations in 2016, according to the EESI. Access to the largest domestic market can potentially fuel the international growth with an added benefit of China’s push to become an AI technology leader too. Government-backed policies, incentives and subsidies encourage the uptake of new energy vehicles and pave the way for China to dominate the global EV market.
From the OEMS who are playing catch-up, through to the startups with their pockets stuffed with investor funding, the race is on to catch Tesla. With Morgan Stanley predicting that four out of every five cars sold globally will be EVs by 2050 (that’s one billion electric vehicles on the road worldwide), the opportunities will be plentiful but the competition will undoubtedly get more and more fierce. Elon Musk may soon have to start getting used to those sleepless nights.
Lynn Walford in California, Thomas Achelis in Munich and Olga Kim in London contributed to this special report.