Although it has change into the world’s most respected automaker, Tesla nonetheless has to determine how you can change into constantly worthwhile, scale back high quality issues in its luxurious vehicles and extra rapidly flip alluring prototypes into mass-produced automobiles.
One space the place it hasn’t had a lot to stress about: competitors.
Over the final 12 months or so, a number of automakers, together with Audi, Jaguar and Porsche, have added heralded new fashions supposed to chop into Tesla’s electrical dominance. But they’ve barely made a dent, at the very least within the United States. Sales of the Jaguar I-Pace, an electrical sport utility car just like the Tesla Model Y, have totaled simply over 1,000 this 12 months. Porsche has reported comparable gross sales for its electrical sedan, the Taycan.
Audi, which has grown steadily within the United States over the past decade, launched an electrical S.U.V., the E-tron, final 12 months, and gross sales have sputtered. So far this 12 months, Audi has offered just below 2,900. In many states, the automotive is marketed at costs 13 p.c or extra under its record value — uncommon for an Audi.
“Obviously from the numbers we’re seeing, these cars aren’t setting the world on fire,” mentioned Karl Brauer, an impartial auto analyst. “It was a mistake to think that just because these cars were on the market that people were going to buy them.”
General Motors has fared considerably higher with its Chevrolet Bolt, which the corporate launched in 2016. The firm has offered over eight,000 Bolts this 12 months. Sales of the Nissan Leaf have topped three,000.
Tesla, which doesn’t get away gross sales by nation, is clearly working at a totally different degree. State information analyzed by Cross-Sell exhibits that 56,000 new Teslas have been registered this 12 months in 23 states, together with California, Florida, New York and Texas. Analysts mentioned Tesla’s 50-state gross sales whole most likely exceeded 70,000 vehicles. Globally, the corporate delivered about 180,000 vehicles within the first six months of the 12 months.
Of course, electrical automobiles, together with Tesla’s, symbolize a tiny proportion of auto gross sales, which totaled greater than 17 million within the United States final 12 months. Electrics are a greater half of the new-car market in Europe, and Tesla faces extra competitors there than within the United States, however not a lot more. China has many homegrown electric carmakers, but they tend to make cheaper vehicles that do not directly compete with Tesla’s offerings. Regardless of the market, though, E.V.s are the fastest-growing segment of the auto industry.
Tesla’s dominance can be explained in part by its head start. It has been selling electric cars in significant numbers since 2012. The company and its chief executive, Elon Musk, have also built a fervent fan base that few other automakers, save perhaps high-end sports car brands like Porsche or Ferrari, can claim. Tesla has long offered innovations other companies are only now trying to match, such as wireless software updates that can add features or fix glitches without trips to dealerships.
One of the biggest shortcomings of competing models is range — the distance an electric car can go before needing to be recharged. The maximum for the E-tron and Taycan is about 200 miles. The I-Pace and Bolt go about 235 to 260 miles. The least expensive Tesla Model 3 has a range of 250 miles, and most of the company’s cars go 300 miles or more on a single charge.
Sam Abuelsamid, an analyst at Guidehouse Insights, said that the Audi, Jaguar and Porsche vehicles were superior to Teslas in some ways, such as look, feel and finish, but that their limited range had put off many buyers.
“The difference is too great for a lot of consumers to ignore,” he said.
Mercedes-Benz and BMW have been slower to introduce electric vehicles in the United States, where both companies plan to start selling new electric S.U.V.s next year. Mercedes late last year delayed the introduction of its model, the EQC. And BMW, which introduced its i3 in 2014, has not built on that early start.
That has left the field open for Tesla, and investors have taken note. The company’s stock has soared this year, climbing from $510 in early January to about $1,600. The opening of a second assembly plant in China and the introduction of the Model Y have lifted optimism that Tesla will lead a global transition from gasoline-powered cars and trucks to zero-emission electric vehicles.
Of course, Tesla’s success is not guaranteed. It hasn’t reported an annual profit since its founding in 2003. The company has struggled to match the quality levels of traditional automakers, and it is spending heavily on Model Y production and developing a pickup truck, a semi truck and other vehicles. It is also building a third factory in Germany, and planning a fourth.
Its Autopilot driver-assistance system has won widespread attention, but its shortcomings have come under scrutiny after fatal accidents during its use. This month, a German court ruled that Tesla had exaggerated the system’s abilities and created the false impression that Tesla cars with Autopilot could drive themselves. The company has long claimed that the data collected by its cars shows that the system makes its cars safer than others on the road.
Officials at Tesla did not reply to requests for comment.
Moreover, a stronger competitive push may come soon. By the end of this year, Ford Motor expects to start selling an electric S.U.V., the Mustang Mach-E, that is styled to look like the company’s famous sports car. It is promising a version of the car with a range of 300 miles or more. G.M. has said it will offer a new Bolt with longer range by the end of this year, followed by more than 20 other electric models over the next three years.
Volkswagen next year will begin selling an electric S.U.V., the ID4, which will also have a range of 300 miles. The company on Monday started taking orders in Europe for the ID3, a hatchback that will sell for about 10,000 euros less than the Model 3; the car is not expected to be sold in the United States.
And various start-ups are raising billions of dollars to challenge Tesla. Among the most promising is Rivian, which is backed by Amazon, Ford and other investors. The company, which is based in Michigan, plans to bring out next year a pickup truck and an S.U.V. that can go up to 400 miles.
Coming even sooner is a new company, Polestar, owned by Volvo and Volvo’s Chinese parent, Zhejiang Geely Holding. The Polestar 2 is a hatchback that is supposed to go 275 miles before needing a recharge and has the kind of agility — zero to 62 miles an hour in less than five seconds — that appeals to aficionados. It will start at $59,900 in the United States, and buyers will be able to claim a $7,500 federal tax credit and state incentives. The company will also sell the Polestar 1, a sports coupe that starts at $155,000.
Polestar recently opened sales centers in Santa Monica, Calif., and New York City. Sales are expected to begin in the next few weeks. Other showrooms should pop up next year in Boston, Miami, Denver and elsewhere.
The company has made a big bet on technology. Its cars are controlled by Google’s Android software, which enables drivers to operate many parts of the vehicles through the same kind of natural voice commands that many people use with smartphones.
“You can use Google Assistant to utilize everything from maps to changing the climate in your car to asking trivia questions,” said Gregor Hembrough, the head of Polestar’s U.S. operations and a Volvo veteran.
And since Polestar is an E.V.-only company like Tesla, Mr. Hembrough is counting on pulling customers from traditional carmakers, not just its bigger rival. He said the company expected to sell “thousands” of cars this year, and “tens of thousands” in 2021.
“Right now, there’s only one party in town,” he said.
Jack Ewing contributed reporting.