How Financial Analysts (And Many Others) Misunderstand Tesla's Competitors

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2014 Tesla Model S

2014 Tesla Model S

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Startup electric-car maker Tesla Motors and its sleek Model S luxury sport sedan have generated more media coverage over the last three years than many well-established car companies.

But at least some of that coverage is woefully, hilariously out of touch with the actual world of real people buying real cars to meet real needs and satisfy complex and varied motivations.

MORE: Who Buys Plug-In Electric Cars, And Why? CA Report Explains It All For You

Some of the worst offenders are financial analysts, and some of the oddest suggestions come when they consider the vehicles a Tesla Model S may compete with.

The tendency to bucket all "alternative powertrains" into one undifferentiated group--not to mention different body styles and car sizes--often leads to some truly hilarious suppositions.

Q7 TDI vs Model S ?!?!?

Take, for example, a post last month on the investor website Seeking Alpha by someone named Logical Thought, apparently representing Stanphyl Capital Management LLC:

2013 Audi Q7 TDI

2013 Audi Q7 TDI

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In the luxury segment (competing directly with Tesla's Model S) is the new Audi Q7 TDI, a "clean diesel" model that goes 0-60 in 5.5 seconds, gets 38 mpg on the highway, has all-wheel drive (unlike the Model S) and (including the Tesla's tax credits and assuming a standard dealer discount on the Audi) sells for at least $10,000 less than a comparably equipped Model S85 which actually can't be "comparably equipped" as Tesla doesn't offer many of the Audi's features.

Where to begin?

One place would be vehicle type. The Audi Q7 is a very large, tall, heavy sport-utility vehicle, whereas the Tesla Model S is a five-door sport sedan (or technically hatchback).

The Q7 might compete with the upcoming Tesla Model X all-wheel-drive crossover utility vehicle, but very few people cross-shop sedans with SUVs.

Sedans compete with each other; crossover and SUVs compete with each other. The uses are very different.

[UPDATE: Our astute commenter Steve Adams suggests that "Logical Thought" has committed a typo, writing "Q7" where he meant "A7". The Audi A7 is a sleek medium- to full-size five-door sport sedan (technically hatchback) offered only with quattro all-wheel drive. This theory is likely confirmed by the A7 TDI's highway fuel-efficiency rating, which is the 38 mpg cited. We feel our confusion is understandable, however, since more than half of Audi's Q7 SUVs are sold with the TDI diesel option. Thanks, Steve!]

Early adopters vs diesels

Then there's the powertrain. Many people buying the Tesla do so precisely because it's electrically powered (and very fast as a result).

MORE: VW Diesel Buyers, Hybrid Buyers: Both Want Fuel Economy, But Beyond That...

Diesels appear to do well in affluent suburbs--in part because many of them are sold by German luxury brands--but tech-obsessed "early adopter" buyers rarely view diesel engines as a huge leap forward in next-generation auto technology.

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