Germany's best known sports car maker promises its Mission E, which was teased at last year's Frankfurt auto show, will be "an electric Porsche that deserves the name." That means it will be consistently fast over an extended period with no loss of performance despite repeated accelerating and braking. It is supposed to be the first zero-emissions car worthy of being taken to the racetrack.
Porsche, however, will need years before it can mass produce and sell its electric sports car at a decent profit. Meanwhile, Tesla will continue to deliver tens of thousands of its vaunted sedans and SUVs every year to wealthy progressives around the world, most likely at a loss.
"I wish we had put that car on the road and not Tesla," confided a senior engineer at Porsche, not a brand typically prone to technological envy. "We have to earn money at the end of the day though."
Speak to other developers in Germany and the same healthy respect mixed with a dose of jealousy can be heard. Whether it is the Wall Street-funded business model, outlandish marketing claims or its brash determination to ignore conventions such as independent retailers, Tesla refuses to play by the same rules as everyone else. And, so far, the company gets away with it.
How do Europe's premium carmakers, and particularly the German luxury brands, compete against a rival like that? The truth is they can't -- at least not as long as Tesla remains a money-losing boutique manufacturer of luxury sports cars propped up by investors.
"Part of it is a cultural issue," said a Mercedes-Benz official who asked to remain anonymous. "You can't compare a 130-year-old company shaped by German engineering ingenuity with a startup from Silicon Valley. It's a different approach."
Despite those differences Audi, BMW and Mercedes are joining Porsche in the race to provide a response to Tesla's success. Audi plans to launch a dedicated electric model in 2018. Mercedes will showcase its Tesla fighter with a concept car this month at the Paris auto show. Mercedes also plans to create a subbrand for electric cars that will offer two electric SUVs and two battery-powered sedans, people familiar with the plan told Bloomberg last month.
BMW hopes its fully autonomous iNext, due in 2021, will revolutionize the industry but in the meantime it will continue to promote its poorly performing i3 as the best option for those looking for a premium zero-emissions car. Volvo plans a Model S rival, which will arrive in 2019 and share its underpinnings with the S90, V90 and XC90. Jaguar Land Rover is expected to debut a battery-powered concept in November at the Los Angeles Auto Show.
More electric vehicles will undoubtedly follow as European Union regulators crack down on road transport emissions, announcing early next year stringent new carbon dioxide targets for the period after 2021. Carmakers have no choice but to electrify their powertrains.