As far as punchlines go, it was a quirky one: $69,420. Delivered by CEO Elon Musk on Oct. 14, that’s the new price of the Tesla Model S. Whether or not you get the joke depends on how in touch you are with the high-stakes battle currently underway for supremacy in the U.S. electric car market. While the yuks were on-brand—Musk’s humor runs from geeky to subversive to whoopee cushion—the unexpected price cut indicated that, for once, Musk is taking a Tesla rival seriously.
Earlier Lucid Motors had announced its debut, an electric car called the Air, would sell for $69,900 (factoring in a $7,500 federal EV tax credit), at the time undercutting the price of the Model S. With a more luxurious cabin, Lucid claims its base-model Air can cover 406 EPA-cycle miles on a single charge—more than the highest-range Model S.
Also based in the Bay Area, Lucid CEO Peter Rawlinson is a former chief engineer at Tesla (he oversaw development of the original Model S a decade ago). The company’s brain trust has the battery and propulsion smarts needed to pack loads of performance and range in electric cars without packing them to the brim with battery cells and excess weight. Far pricier versions of the Air promise 517 miles of range, 1,080 horsepower and quarter-mile acceleration times of 9.9 seconds. Lucid is readying for a production start at its own factory in Arizona early this year.
Rivian is the other well-funded EV company set to emerge in 2021. Also stocked with Tesla refugees—it’s been accused by Tesla of stealing trade secrets—Rivian is based in California and Michigan, but plans to start building rather technical-looking pickups and SUVs at a former Mitsubishi plant in Illinois. With investments from Amazon and Ford, Rivian is honing in on a part of the market that hasn’t yet gone electric—vehicles for the great outdoors. Its fully electric R1T pickup and R1S SUV are clean-cut alter egos of the proposed Tesla Cybertruck. They’ll start at $60,000 and $62,500, respectively (with tax credits), and include options like capability for the trucks to power campsites.
Porsche’s Taycan arrived last year with 800-volt tech that set the model up to be the biggest threat yet to Tesla’s preeminence. It’s no surprise that German engineering pedigree produced a different idea of what an electric car should be—and while it might meet the Model S in performance and solidly beat it in jaw-dropping looks and driving enjoyment, it so far fails to measure up on one of the key bragging points for any kind of EV: range.
The term “Tesla killer” is bandied about each time an EV arrives from an established brand, like the Jaguar I-Pace or Audi E-Tron. By now the term deserves an eye roll—no presumptive rivals have slowed Tesla’s growth. But Rivian, Lucid and others will likely narrow the gap between EV makers, if not this year then in the near future. It’s a long game for everyone, but it’s not rocket science.
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