I have now been following the electric vehicle movement for nearly 10 years. As more automakers release all electric vehicles (EVs), the more I realize how good Tesla’s technology is. This is despite a small subset of people who say Tesla does not have a competitive advantage. But is this really accurate?
For every new EV that comes out, it becomes apparent that creating a compelling EV that can compete with the market leader, Tesla, is not easy. Take for example the Audi E-Tron. Their first electric SUV looks like an Audi and will appeal to their core base. The driver’s display and infotainment system of the vehicle are nearly identical to their gas-powered siblings. However, the EPA range that was recently released comes in at 204 miles (328 km) on a 95 kWh battery pack. Jaguar’s all electric challenger, the I-Pace, has a 90 kWh battery pack and yields 234 miles (377 km). Though Porsche’s Taycan has yet to be released, the 311 mile (500 km) NEDC range is expected to drop to 240 to 250 (386-402 km) EPA miles.
Tesla, on the contrary, has offered a 265 mile (426 km) battery since 2012 with their 85 kWh pack. It wasn’t until 5 years later, in 2017, that we saw another automaker cross the 200 mile barrier, the Chevy Bolt with 238 miles (383 km) of range. Since then we’ve seen a whole host of automaker come out with 200+ mile range options. However, none of them has yet to get even close to Tesla’s current top end battery technology.
In August 2016 Tesla introduced the 315 mile (507 km) Model S P100D. That following January 2017, the non-performance Model S 100D was introduced with 335 miles (539 km). The Model X variants followed a similar timetable with ranges of 289 and 295 mile (465 and 475 km), respectively. It doesn’t end there. Tesla’s top end range for their more affordable Model 3 is 325 miles (523 km) and a battery pack estimated to be around 75 kWh. Including the upcoming Model Y, 10 of the 12 vehicles Tesla sells currently have 300 or more miles (483 km) of range.
This raises the question, if Tesla does not have a competitive advantage - why do we see such a large gap between what Tesla offers and other standing automakers?
I think it boils down to two unique factors: 1) Range - how far can you travel on a single charge? and 2) Charging - how long does it take to charge?
These two factors - range and charging speed - you could say are what people care most about because it is what gives them freedom of mobility. It is an EV holy grail.
To get a better picture of the landscape of the how far ahead Tesla is in this EV holy grail, let’s take a look at the entire EV market:
These are the EVs you can drive off the lot with today. Four of Tesla’s five vehicles available now are in the top five for best range. The Model 3 Standard Range Plus was only beaten out for the fifth spot by the Hyundai Kona EV. Of the top 10 best range vehicles, Tesla takes 50%. If you factor in the pending Model 3 Standard Range, that’s six out of the top 10.
As we factor in EVs scheduled to come out this year or next, there is one automaker that I’ve been keeping a very close eye on - Rivian Automotive. In November 2018 Rivian stunned the EV community by announcing they’d be delivering in late 2020 and 2021 a truck and SUV with more than 400 miles (644 km). They will do this by stacking two layers of batteries together with a chiller plate in between them to keep the pack cool.
Looking at the list of current and soon coming EVs, the top 10 is dominated completely by Tesla and Rivian. It’s not until you consider the top 20 that you see other automakers. Some, like Audi and Mercedes don’t even make the top 20.
In order to fully appreciate what Tesla is doing with their batteries, you have to break the list down by segment efficiency.
In almost every category, Tesla is the leader in efficiency. Somehow they’ve found a way to make a beautifully aerodynamic vehicles with energy dense battery cells.
The second part to the EV holy grail is charging. Though 90-95% of charging typically takes place at home in a garage, charging network and speed are huge considerations for those looking at EVs.
If you’re considering buying an EV and you either do a lot of driving or travel on long road trips, charging network and the speed at which an EV charges could not be more important. This is because, depending on the type of EV you buy, it may not be feasible.
Here’s what the current CCS charging network looks like if you were to buy an EV today. It’s not fantastic. Do keep in mind that this network will likely to get better over time, just as Tesla’s did when they first introduced their Supercharging network back in 2014.
Here is Tesla’s current charging network.
I took a trip from Denver to LA last month to attend the Model Y event. If I did not have a Tesla, this is what my CCS charging network would have been. I could have added in slower charging to the map but then I wouldn’t not have arrived to the event in time.
That’s just density of charging network, let’s also talk about the speed of charging. Not all EVs can take a high rate of charge.
However, this is where I see a sliver of hope. Most new EVs, especially higher end ones come with the CCS standard. Porsche says the Taycan will have a 350 kW rate, Rivian will do 160 kW, the Polestar 2, Mercedes EQC, and Audi E-Tron will do 150 kW. All of the aforementioned EVs will be faster than Tesla’s current Model S and X 120 kW charge rate and their expected bump to 145 kW. If Tesla upgrades the S and X to Model 3’s charge rate it will push ahead to 250 kW.
In summary, the automakers who can figure out the holy grail of EVs, as Tesla has, will be able to compete with them. As of right now, even luxury makers like Porsche, Audi, Jaguar, and BMW still seem to be looking for their way in this new EV world. It may very well take a new comer like Rivian to challenge Tesla. We’ll just have to wait to see how things unfold.