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
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!).