Luxury automakers take aim at Tesla with new EVs

LOS ANGELES — Embracing electric power as the new reality, luxury automakers are showing they are serious about embracing models that take dead aim at Tesla Motors.

Jaguar officially showed a new electric SUV concept Wednesday at the Los Angeles Auto Show. Audi, too, is readying long-range electric SUVs. Both are expected to come to showrooms in 2018, providing competition for a field that Tesla's electric Model X crossover has all to itself at the moment. Porsche is working on an electric sports car as well, and Aston Martin has an electric sedan in the wings.

Tesla, which expects to deliver 50,000 of its electric sedans and SUVs in the second half of this year, doesn't sound particularly worried. In fact, it says it welcomes the competition as a way of bringing more buyer interest to the planet-saving vehicles.

The automaker, based in Palo Alto, Calif., said in a statement Wednesday: "Every compelling EV on the road is a win for Tesla."

While mainstream automakers are also trying to field long-range electric cars — Chevrolet's Bolt is about to come to market with a range of 238 miles a charge — luxury cars have an advantage. Their higher prices and higher profit margins help automakers absorb the cost of their high-priced battery packs.

In the case of both Jaguar and Audi, they are building electric SUVs from entirely new designs, not retrofitting current gas models, showing the degree of seriousness in which they are undertaking the effort.

"In the end, electrification gives you a lot of freedom," says Finbar McFall, Jaguar's global marketing director, as the automaker showed its new I-Pace electric SUV concept. With no engine under the hood — only a sheet of batteries built into the floor and electric motors on both axles — designers could reimagine the look of the SUV.

Officials of the British brand are quick to point out that the I-Pace concept is not likely to be a direct competitor of Tesla Model X. It's a class-size smaller. But it also happens to be about the right size to compete with what is likely an inevitable SUV version of Tesla's mass-market Model 3. The Model 3 sedan, expected to be priced about $35,000 to start, is due out next year.

"There's nothing on the market like it," says Anna Gallagher, global launch manager for the I-Pace.

Audi of America President Scott Keogh says his brand has a new electric SUV of an entirely new design on its way. Last year, Audi showed a concept for just such an SUV. Seating four, it was sized between the Q5 midsize crossover and the full-size Q7.

Porsche, for its part, says developing an electric sports car off the Mission E concept that it has shown is a top priority in vehicle development. It's "a big change for us," says Klaus Zellmer, the head of North America for Porsche.

Interestingly, "managing the performance side to electric is not the biggest challenge," Zellmer says. Rather, it's the sound. Porsche owners love the whine of the high-performance gas engines. He says, however, there will be no compromise in performance.

"We certainly think the market is ready for it," Zellmer says.


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