Infiniti LE Electric Luxury Sedan: Tesla's Worst Nightmare?

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2012 Tesla Model S beta vehicle, Fremont, CA, October 2011

2012 Tesla Model S beta vehicle, Fremont, CA, October 2011

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One of the surprise stars of the New York Auto Show media days this week was the Infiniti LE Concept.

The design study for an electric four-door sedan is a close approximation of a car that will roll off assembly lines in Smyrna, Tennessee, in about two years.

And it poses an intriguing question: Could the Infiniti LE be the closest competitor for the upcoming Tesla Model S?

While Infiniti is far from announcing final specs or pricing, the LE Concept is intriguing because it slots neatly into a vacant spot in the rapidly expanding array of battery-electric vehicles on sale or coming to the U.S. market.

Below it, you have the Nissan Leaf, a distinctively styled five-door hatchback which starts at $35,200 for 2012. It's the volume leader in all-electric cars. Then you have the smaller, and lower-volume, Mitsubishi 'i' hatchback minicar, at $29,125 for the base model.

You'll also start to see sales of the Coda Sedan, a plain four-door sedan priced at $37,250 for the base model (or $39,990 for a longer-range model), and very low volumes of the Ford Focus Electric, also a five-door hatchback, at a price of $39,995.

Above the LE Concept  is the much-anticipated 2012 Tesla Model S, which is scheduled to start rolling off the production lines in Fremont, California, by the end of this summer.

2012 Infiniti LE Concept

2012 Infiniti LE Concept

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The lowest-range 160-mile version of Tesla's new model won't be available until sometime in 2013, Tesla has said. But it's on the books and buyers can place reservations, at a price of $57,400.

So let's make some assumptions about where the production 2015 Infiniti LE will sit in the market. We think it might be priced neatly between the Leaf ($35K-$40K) and the Model S ($58K-$78K).

Suppose the LE were priced at $45,000.

Here's how we think it stacks up to the Model S.

Tesla Model S advantages:

  • Base model has longer range (160 vs 100 miles)
  • Tesla brand stands for all-electric performance
  • Tesla owners are acknowledged to be tech-savvy early adopters
  • Kid-sized jump seats can be added for sixth and seventh passengers

Infiniti LE advantages:

  • Sold by a known brand with 22 years on the U.S. market
  • Infiniti's parent company, Nissan, will have sold hundreds of thousands of electric cars globally by 2014.
  • Costs at least $10,000 less
  • Four-door sedan body style, not a five-door hatchback

As for design, we're going to call it a tie, since we think each car will have its supporters and detractors.

So what do you think? We know this site has many Tesla fans, and we'd like to know how readers think the Infiniti LE would stack up against the lowest-range version of the Tesla Model S.

Leave us your thoughts in the Comments below (and keep it polite!).


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Comments (57)
  1. I think it would be a very, very serious competitor to a Tesla. You forget the strength of the Nissan/Infinity net. I know from (bad) experience how decisive that can be.
    BTW I think your hundreds of thousands of Leafs by 2014 are wildly optimistic.

  2. Tesla wins on styling and range. Infiniti wins on probable reliability.

  3. @John. Since electric cars are likely to be more reliable than ICE vehicles and EV's are new to Nissan too I don't think probable reliablity will win over the lack of range and lack of power of this glorified Leaf. I own a Hyundia nd when I bought it I got ribbed a few times by my family on both sides. It been a great car however and I have over 200K miles on it and the only thing that broke on it was the thermostat.

  4. With due respect, Hyundia is established car company that has taken decades to get their quality up to that level. Tesla is almost a brand new company and their quality is unlikely to measure up to that of Infiniti.

  5. However quality is often the sum of the parts and I feel Tesla will be alright since they from the very begining have strived to build a great car that happens to be an EV. I am intrigued with their cars because they have set out to make an EV that is not just as good as a gasoline car but better. I feel that they alone are pushing the technology to new heights. I am also aware that over reaching can put you in economic perils if your product doesn't sell well. Tesla's very survival depends on the Model S being a great car. I would love to go out and buy one but at $57,000 its just too much. I want them to make their $30,000 Bluestar Ev with 150+ mile range and I will buy then since I can buy a fully load Prius for Less than a Nissan Leaf.

  6. The Infiniti LE though new is just a redressed Leaf, the only thing that's really new is the body and the wireless charging. If range is one of the consumers biggest issues with the Leaf why would a luxury version with the same range do any better? The basic Model S will supposedly go 160 miles and the whole car was designed to show what can be achieved with a slim electric platform, with a spacious cabin and two trunks, it will be unlike any other car. Tesla is aiming to innovate all aspects of the car and the Model S is supposed to be a total game changer, whereas the LE is only a first for a major manufacturer. So is the LE Tesla's worst nightmare, NO because the LE is just a luxury Leaf.

  7. Well, if badging and styling is the only thing preventing someone from buying a LEAF, the LE might be the answer.

    I am amazed at the violently negative reaction the Prius gets just based on its looks. I wonder how many more Prius could be sold if they just offered one that looked nice.

  8. I agree, if the Leaf's looks are the only thing keeping some people away then the LE is the answer. But the LE is no match for the Model S, the only real trump card is Infiniti's dealer network, but to be fair Tesla hasn't been around as long anyway.

  9. the Hybrid Camry and Highlander sell at 10% the rate of the Prius. It's why I suspect Toyota chose to expand the Prius platform ( C, V, Plugin) rather then turning out Hybrid versions of sienna, avalon, FJ Cruiser,,,,

  10. Really ? Am I hearing this correctly ? No wait.........yah i am, k at what point did looks NOT play an important role ?!?!
    I personally think toyota should have made the prius violently sexy and smooth lined as this is intrega; to the "whole" of what makes a awesome ride just that, why settle for less when you're going green anywho, tesla's roadster delivers on green,, fast, sexy lines, and user friendly, - and over the long hall, ECONOMIC, now if you strapped a boom box to the cars rev meeter and boom !!! You have a fast and loud green battery spending machine. Prius needs to go Omegus (next model)to deliver on whole sell, like a book end.

  11. It might be a competitor in the minds of those who don't know anything much about either car. The Model S design is revolutionary and its superior performance will make any attempts to compare the two cars a dead end. Need to see more details of the Nissan's mechanicals but so far I see no reason for Tesla to worry. Most of the apparent cost difference seems to be due to the battery pack size differences. And the Tesla beats the Nissan at its own game : styling. And Tesla also has a Model X crossover
    available. Nissan may have the bigger name as an automaker, but Tesla has far more prestige amongst the electric car set. And Tesla also has close connections to automakers bigger (and far more prestigious) than Nissan.

  12. If you have the money, Tesla gives you less worries. The way it looks today, no EV can even come close to the Model S.

  13. Without being too rude, can I question the $45,000 assumed price.

    Current Infiniti models
    G25 $32,600-$35,600
    G37 $36,400-$51,300
    M56 $59,200-$61,700
    M35h $53,700

    With the M35h being the hybrid. So why should we think the price of the LE is $45,000 when they are already have customers willing to pay $53,700 for a hybrid. What is the chance that the price will be more like $55,000?

    Doesn't the history of EV pricing show that they are priced at a significant premium relative to the brand's ICE pricing?

  14. @John: Good Q. I didn't include in the article that one exec said the LE is "about the size of a G sedan." So it would be positioned within that size class, presumably about equal to (or perhaps slightly higher than) the G37, whose acceleration it will likely match.

    Note also that the $45K is the estimate for listed base price, not full transaction price.

    Very few buyers indeed pay just $35.2K for a 2012 Leaf, since the SV models are few and far between. Full transaction price for an LE could be up to $55K depending on options--and I doubt they'll do the same level of discounting on the LE (at least at first) that they do for the G, which is Infiniti's highest volume line.

  15. If the pricing pushes up to $55K for the LE, I think the case for the Tesla Model S is quite strong.

  16. Do you really believe the LE will even come close to the acceleration of a G37?

  17. With a 100 KW motor, no probably not. I wonder if that will make it a non-starter for the Infiniti customer. I suspect there will be brisk 0-30 acceleration but 0-60 will be less impressive.

  18. But, that said, you're right: We just don't know.

    I'd say that Infiniti is smart enough not to get too close to the $57.4K price of the cheapest Model S, since they know they have a range disadvantage. And they're likely counting on the LE to add meaningful incremental electric volume to the Smyrna plant, so they want to price it competitively.

    That's my thinking for saying $45K. Could go to $49K, and I'll be curious to see where it lines up with the Cadillac ELR, which although a coupe is the same sort of idea (luxury model on mass underpinnings):

  19. A 100-mile (ideal if it's like the Leaf) range is not any kind of competition for the Tesla. It becomes a commuter-only car, which makes it a very expensive one that needs daily charging.

    Never mind this is 2 years -- and probably 50,000 deliveries worth of Model S -- away. I don't see this as a threat to Model S >at all

  20. $45K and the same range as the Leaf. Geez what were they thinking?. The Tesla Model S will have a feild day with this car. It shows you that Nissan is only paying lip service to making a great EV. Are they paying too much money for their Li/ion Battery packs? The Infinity will only have a 100KW (134hp) motor while the Tesla will have 300KW (402hp) motor so the perfomance will be much like the Leaf which is no rocket. Anyone remember the Cadillac Cimmeron? Epic failure. Gutless, small and comprimised will not sell even with a fancy wrapper. The model S is sexy and fast and you can go 160 miles in the base model. Build a great car that happens to be an EV and it will sell. Tesla is the only manufacture that has the right idea.

  21. At this point the LE is only a concept car so any pricing is an assumption. I don't think that should have been brought up either, it's way to early. I'd have to agree with Mr.Briggs on this.

  22. I am OK with bringing this up. Just curious about how pricing might be set, e.g. cost + or market priced or something else.

    Consider it a thought experiment. What would the price point of the LE need to be to be competitive with the Tesla Model S? Could the LE be priced the same as the Model S given Infiniti's proven history, or would it need to be price significantly less to make it compete.

  23. IMHO, a buyer of a 45K or 50K car wants a lot of range. I think Tesla is on it with a 160 Mile range.

  24. The Tesla chassis and exterior design are superior and the 160+ mile range would make people a lot more comfortable. But if the price difference is more than $5000 then Infiniti may have an advantage.

    The upcoming HVAC improvements will increase the Nissan/Infiniti estimated range. But don't forget the target BEV customer is initially someone who rarely drives more than 1 hour from home and/or has 2 or more vehicles in their household.

    The Tesla S NEEDS to have the wireless home charger and an industry standard fast charger I believe this will be far more important than most realize.

  25. Another problem for Tesla may be the dash control. I love techno gadgets but, If it ain't broke don't fix it! Established norms for car controls are more intuitive. The Tesla S interior controls are costly and unproven in both ease of use and reliability. If the control pad has a glitch the car might be left without needed functions I dislke the shifter on the Nissan Leaf for the same reason, it also violates the KISS design philosophy. People have accidently left the Leaf in drive when they got out of their car.

    I hope the Model S is wildly successful but Tesla shouldn't presume they will be triumphant.

  26. "The Tesla S NEEDS to have the wireless home charger and an industry standard fast charger I believe this will be far more important than most realize."

    I disagree. Wireless charging is a very expensive way to save a few seconds plugging in. But I wouldn't be surprised to see Tesla offer it as an option.

    Fast charging is available for the higher end Tesla Model S. If this is important to you, move up to the mid-range model.

  27. Roy,

    What you don't seem to be getting is that minor annoyances = major bad PR. Making people as comfortable with your product (and price point) as possible = good PR and more success in the market.

    Non-standard fast charging ports with special adapters will annoy customers. Using public fast chargers is necessary if customers intend to ever use the vehicle for longer trips.

    Yes plugging in isn't that much of a hassle but, the "set it and forget it" hassle free wireless charger can make people much more comfortable with BEV's. No - Oops I forgot to charge last night. No - The wfe tore the charging cable off when she forgot to unplug. (I believe this will happen often with the Plug-In Prius, due to the passenger side charging port)

  28. It would have been a Tesla competitor if it had a 36kWh battery, but by just making it a flashier Leaf they've blown it.

  29. Agreed. A production version of this will no doubt be a lot heavier than the Leaf, reducing range below the Leaf's 73 miles of EPA rated range which makes this just a weird concept for a city car. I doubt Nissan would ever seriously consider bringing this to the market with the Leaf's battery.

  30. The LE looks like a Hyundai, which is not a complement. Also, assuming that an all electric Infinity is going to cost 10k less than the Model S is a big assumption, seeing as the Volt is about 10k less. I also highly doubt the performance of the LE will come anywhere close to the Model S.

  31. "The LE looks like a Hyundai, which is not a complement"
    I have a Hyundia Elantra and its been a great car. I have owned it 5 years now and other than scheduled maintanence "Timing belt changes" the only problem it ever had only had was a thermostat going out on it. I also own a Buick and we have had a lot more problems mechanically with that car then the Hyundia ever has. Hyundia make decent cars and they offer a great warrenty. Over the last 10 years Hyundia has really improved their cars and they are just as good as Toyota and Nissan and Ford according to JD Powers survey.

  32. You must be logged in to post your comment.i think its a BIG loss for Nissan to market the car with just the "100 mile" range. it should have had at least a rated 150 mile range to stand out as an upscale Nissan Electric.

  33. The success of both, Tesla S and Infiniti LE, is important to the growth and acceptance of EV's in the marketplace. Nissan/Infiniti will be around a long time, but I see Tesla, as great as their cars may be, succumbing to the costs of starting up a new automobile design/manufacturing/sales & service line quite draining financially. Over time, I see them being bought out by some company like Chrysler, who so far behind in the EV race. The success of both will help us all in the development of EV charging infrastructure.

  34. It's a bit hard to see how a basically boring sedan that's tarted up with far to many random creases in it's body work to make it actually stylish, with mediocre performance and poor range could ever be seriously considered a competitor with a sleek aluminum sport sedan with far superior styling, technology, performance and interior space. I seriously doubt Elon Musk will loose any sleep over this one.

  35. My crystal ball guess is $39,900 plus $80 per month for battery and wireless charger rental. I think all electric vehicles rolling out the Smyrna, TN plant will have a battery rental option. Renault is testing this "Batteries not included" option in the UK, I believe it will be a success. The 2013 Leaf will hit the Nissan dealerships with this option. The sales success of all the new hybrids and consumers concerns about battery life and recycling will force electric vehicles to be sold with battery rental options.
    To answer the original question, Yes the 2015 Infiniti LE is bad news for Tesla I do not think they have deep enough pockets to go into the battery rental business.

  36. Interesting

  37. If the infinity offers CHADEMO (50kw), tesla will have difficult selling the base S, as the base tesla offers no fast-charge (20kw max)!!!!

  38. does it make a difference ? as long as there is a market for the vehicle !!

  39. Assuming you are asking what does it matter what people think about the cars...
    It's important because there is such a thing as Market Share.
    We already know there is a market, albit small, for EVs.

  40. what i meant is that all this sounds like "my dad is better than your dad".

    as long as there is a market (people will buy), i was asking does it really make a difference if the nissan competes with the tesla or not ?

    plus, neither car is even ready to be sold, yet.

  41. I had first signed up for a Leaf, but droped it once I found the highway range maybe as low as 75 miles. My job is 82 miles round trip. The I been waiting for this and the Leaf neither the Infiniti or the Leaf will beat the Tesla to the Market. As you can tell I was just trying to find ways to justify sending $70K for my Tesla and I can't wait. Why would anyone pay even $40 to 45K for another 100 mile car, they just don't get it.

  42. seems if you can find even a 110 plug at work, you could do a trickle charge and get 8 hours of low rate charging in. lets see, 15 amps, at 110, thats 1500 watts or 1.5 KWs say 8 hours at work that's 12 KWH. 3.5 miles per KWH thats 50 miles back in the tank. if you don't have to make an emergency turn around, you are okay.

  43. My round trip to work is 85 miles and I do it in a Leaf. I have to give it 4 hours charging at work (240V) to give me a decent safety margin (a bit longer in the very cold weather when range is reduced and the heater is on full blast). I've done 17,000 miles since July 2011. I would like another 50 - 80 miles range for occasional weekend trips but I don't ever see myself going back to ICE or even hybrid.

  44. But how many people have a 240 volt charger to plug into while at work? I drive about 85 miles round trip too. The Tesla Model S does almost twice that with the standard battery. I certainly am not going to sit around another hour or so to charge my battery after work. I am looking for a range of 150+ at that range I can go to my cabin 114 miles round trip, or visit my Brother and sister in the twin cities 130 miles round trip. You would sound like a leach asking to plug in you car at your friend/families house just so you can get enough range to get home.

  45. Tesla wants the competition - so where is it? Still don't see it.

  46. I drive a Leaf, but hope to move up to a Tesla someday due to the excellent styling and longer range. The California rebate requires me to keep the Leaf for three years which I'm happy to do - perhaps by then Nissan or OEM will offer replacement battery modules that increase the range considerably; then the decision becomes more difficult. I like the shape of the lights on the Infinity but otherwise it's pretty hideous, and luxury to me means you can comfortably cruise as far as you'd like; so 100(-) miles is way too low.

  47. I agree with all the posters who claim Tesla should not be worried. But I too am a Tesla fan and look more into the technology of cars more than most people.

    That said, most people are not us. Look at the Prius Plug In, right out of the gate almost 900 sold in first month. These are people who are mostly loyal Toyota customers, and would not seriously look outside the company's offerings. Toyota is a big successful company, probably with the world's largest group of satisfied auto customers. To a lesser extent, Infinity also has a large group of loyal customers, many more than Tesla will have in 3 years. These people will be happy to choose the Infinity LE over the Tesla, simply because they have a good relationship with their local dealer

  48. At this point I think that if a growing number of EVs offered, that is good for Tesla. It will draw more people into considering EVs, and enough of them will say "actually the Model S is what I want".

  49. I think the Tesla has the most important advantage - RANGE. I think, by far, the spec that makes the Model S so special is the relatively high range of 300 or 230 miles. I realize these models will cost more but I think the buyers they are targeting can afford it. As far as I know, no other car this year will be able to reach this range. I have a Nissan LEAF and if it had a 300 mile range we wouldn't need to have a second car which we only use 1-2 days per month.

  50. the range can be increased on any car if you add more batteries and more weight and MORE DOLLARS.

    range is a non-issue today for the car companies to sell their evs. and it will be a non-issue every year in the future.

    the cars will "magically" have enough range to attract enough buyers for the cars at hand.

  51. That whats wrong with group think. Here is the existing automakers thoughts about adding an EV. We will market an EV and EV by their very nature are less than what a gasoline car is and we won't be catering to the driver that goes more than 75 miles per day. Ever heard of a family emergency? have you ever had to go out of town? I applaude Tesla since they are the only manufacture of interstate worthy EV's. 300KW motor is = to 402 HP with maximum tire melting torque from 0 rpm to the redline at 14,000 rpm. And Tesla offers up to 300 miles of range which is sure to get rid of any semblance of range anxiety. The Leaf is just an urban commuter car since you can not drive more than 1 hour away from home with out recharging.

  52. nothing wrong with it at all. the goal of car companies, like any other company, is to sell their product.

    forget about the tesla - it is only for the wealthy. what they do or do not do makes no difference.

    as i stated many, many times before - the evs will have just enough range and just low enough price to sell the current batch of cars.

    take that to the bank - it is all you need to know.

    we are not talking about AN INDIVIDUAL. we are talking about what it will take to sell the current years cars that have been manufactured.

    for those of you who dont want an ev until it can go 300 miles, you will not be one of the early round adopters.

    and the car companies couldnt care less. they do not care if john smith buys a car.

  53. they only care that they sell their cars. it is so dang simple that i fail to see the mass confusion.

    every year, the price will come down, and the range will go up to meet the current needs of selling those cars.

    at some point, each and every one of us will join the wave of ev buyers.

    personally, i have a nice car that does the job, and i only drive 5000 miles a year. i will probably keep my car until it drops dead. so i certainly will not be an early adopter.

    everybody has different needs. and when an ev meets our needs, we will buy.

  54. this is not magic. all products sell in this fashion.

    but it is a bit easier to manufacture a million ipods than a million cars. and more people can buy an ipod.

    so the timing will be different, for sure.

    but we will see that snowball growing. there seems to be over a dozen companies who have or will be putting out their first ev.

    so we should see a several hundred percent growth in our supply in this time period.

    the more cars they have to sell us, the better it is for us, in terms of features (mostly price and to a lesser extent, range).

    with the current limited supply, everyone is gonna make as much as they can WHILE THEY CAN. the price needs to come down, and will come down, as it becomes a product for the masses.

  55. The number one complaint about smartphones and laptop computers is poor battery life. People expect 8 hours or greater talk time. I feel the same is true about EV's too. I see Tesla as being innovative with comming up with a minimum of 160mile range and then paying an extra $10,000 per an additional 70 miles range. Sure they are expensive and have awesome styling and spacious interiors. Range anxiety will marginalize EV's as commuter cars and second vehicles until they can approach what a gasline car can do. However if supercapacitors are sucessful then you could enjoy a short driving range car that can be charged up in 10 minutes or less and that would get rid of an EV biggest problem of having long charging times.

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