In less than a year, the Tesla Model S has created a new category of car: the electric luxury sport sedan.
But with impending launches by two experienced, prestigious German luxury brands, will Tesla find the Model S facing new competition among wealthy buyers who like plugging in to drive?
We just drove the 2014 Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid, the first-ever plug-in hybrid car from the famed German sports-car brand now owned by Volkswagen.
That car will go on sale for 2014, and is expected to find its largest audience among wealthy Californians--who get a number of incentives to drive fully or partly on electricity.
Porsche, then Benz
Then, in September, the Frankfurt Motor Show will see the unveiling of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class Plug-In Hybrid--first shown as the Vision S 500 Plug-In Hybrid concept in 2009.
Both German cars are projected to do 15 to 25 miles on electricity alone, reverting to conventional hybrids when the battery pack is depleted.
It's the same concept as plug-in hybrids from Toyota, Ford, and Honda--but at a much more luxurious, capable, and high-priced level.
Can they lure buyers?
So will buyers who might otherwise have gone for a Tesla Model S be lured away to a Porsche or Mercedes-Benz plug-in hybrid instead?
Either car would give them electric range around town, with the backup of hundreds of miles on gasoline without the adding complication of visiting Tesla Supercharger stations or the full process of battery swapping.
That's the premise, anyhow, of a post on the SeekingAlpha investment website.
2013 Tesla Model S
The writer, we should note, has sold shares of Tesla Motors [NSDQ:TSLA] short--meaning he has an interest in seeing the stock price go down on bad news.
But he raises a valid question nonetheless.
From January through March, the Tesla Model S outsold full-size luxury sedans from Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Porsche in the U.S. Three of those four competitor offer hybrid models, but none have plugs.
And that's about to change.
Porsche: 22 electric miles
Moreover, the upcoming plug-in Panamera appears to be genuinely good on the road, with true Porsche performance and handling--not to mention a larger rear seat than the Model S.
It's effectively a Panamera S Hybrid with a 9.4-kilowatt-hour battery pack--almost eight times larger than the conventional hybrid's--giving it a stated all-electric range of 22 miles.
It will arrive later this year at selected Porsche dealers, starting at a price of $99,000 (almost $30,000 more than the base Model S).
The 2014 Mercedes-Benz S Class was just unveiled this evening at an event in Hamburg. We were there
A bit less is known about final specs for the plug-in hybrid Mercedes-Benz S-Class, which we'll see in September.
But given that model's position at the pinnacle of the Mercedes-Benz model range, it's bound to be competitive with other German contenders, and most likely the Tesla as well.
The Silicon Valley startup is just now starting to sell the Model S in Europe, and it'll come right up against these plug-in German sedans within the year.
Will Tesla find it harder going when it competitors offer 20 miles on grid power? Or will the battery-only Model S retain its unique position?
(Or, as one colleague suggested, might some wealthy drivers simply add one of each to their multi-car stables?)
Leave us your thoughts in the Comments below.