Published on August 14th, 2019 | by Dr. Maximilian Holland0
Sorry, Porsche — Tesla Model 3 Already Has Repeatable Acceleration. Can We Troll Fossils Instead?
August 14th, 2019 by Dr. Maximilian Holland
Porsche’s recent attempt to troll Tesla by emphasizing the Taycan’s repeated acceleration ability ended up being quickly rebuffed. A Tesla Model 3 Performance owner demonstrated consistent acceleration launches 31 times back to back over a 28 minute period (albeit, within legal speed limits). Instead of EVs trolling other EVs, why don’t we just highlight EV powertrains’ advantages over fossils instead?
Let’s be clear — repeated hard acceleration runs 26 times (let alone 31 times) back to back have little practical use other than showing off the thermal stability of the powertrains. Nonetheless, some consumers might value it, and might have asked if this is something that 2018 era (or 2019 era) electric powertrains could achieve? Yes, evidently so.
If the $55,000 Tesla Model 3 Performance can achieve this, is it surprising that Porsche’s yet-to-be-released, top-end, $130,000 (or more) Taycan “Turbo” can also accomplish the task? Not so much.
Whilst the Tesla acceleration test — being limited to US public roads — only stuck to 0-62 mph (0-100 km/h) acceleration runs, it did get the 31 launches done in 28 minutes with no performance degradation. The Taycan’s official count of 26 runs of 0–124 mph (0–200 km/h) took at least 50 minutes (judging by the times indicated on Jonny Smith’s watch), perhaps longer (I’ve tweeted Jonny for more info, and will update if he replies). Yes, the Taycan is certainly faster to 124 mph (“just under 10 seconds”) than the Model 3 (apparently 14 or 14.1 seconds), but that’s also not surprising given the 2.5× price differential, and the Porsche brand’s high performance focus and racing legacy.
It’s also true that the latest iteration of the Tesla Model S Performance has not yet demonstrated the repeated-ad-nauseam acceleration consistency of its smaller sibling or the Taycan. The previous version of the Model S could only do a limited number of full back-to-back acceleration runs before requiring a cooling off period. Worth remembering, though, that the Model S has stood alone as a high-performance EV for years already, and is based on a powertrain architecture that first appeared in 2011. Despite this, it can still out-accelerate the Taycan “Turbo” up to most countries’ legal speed limits (up to around 140 km/h or 85 mph), and has unparalleled driving range.
For its part, the Taycan will certainly have better acceleration at higher Autobahn speeds, and has clearly been designed to meet the particular requirements of German Autobahn drivers. It will also likely put in very good performance around high-speed racing tracks, as many Porsche owners expect of the brand.
EVs Outperform Fossils
In short, all of these EVs are great vehicles, each has its strengths, and all have more than enough performance to keep owners excited. All of them can knock the socks off of comparably priced fossil-powered vehicles.
EV powertrains are well known to have inherent performance advantages over fossil powertrains. That’s clearly understood by now, and it’s the reason why the next generation of supercars announced by Lotus, Nio, Pagani, Pininfarina, Rimac, and several others will all be battery powered. Whilst many of these will be priced well above $1 million (as is typical for supercars and hypercars), perhaps the best “bang for your buck” (and likely the longest realistic range) will come from Tesla’s Roadster, which will be priced starting from around “just” $200,000. The Roadster will have 2+2 seating and be practical for road use, whereas most others will be purist 2 seaters. Some will be more track focused than others. That’s all good — the more variety that exists, the better. The broad point is that gas/diesel vehicles will have a very hard time outperforming these EVs whilst still meeting ever tightening emissions standards, and not requiring engine rebuilds every few outings.
Given that Porsche already went the plug-in-hybrid route in 2013 with its groundbreaking 918 Spyder, I’d bet its next hypercar will be a pure battery electric. The Taycan will help Porsche lay the groundwork — both technically and symbolically — for this significant step.
The Dilemma of Legacy Auto Makers
Legacy auto manufacturers, with decades of business focused on selling fossil vehicles, have a dilemma in making the transition to electric vehicles. A niche manufacturer like Porsche sells in a specific market segment, has a strong brand following and a loyal cadre of customers, and sells a gradually evolving number of gas/diesel cars every year. It also sells mostly via dealerships where different models sit side by side. Legacy automakers don’t want their new electric models to cannibalise gas/diesel sales.
Meanwhile, Tesla has already set a high bar for great value performance, in large part because of its laser focus on making maximum use of (and constantly iterating on) the inherent advantages of battery electric powertrains.
The inherent advantages of electric mean that a talented auto engineering company like Porsche, known for its engineering prowess and the technical excellence of its products, is necessarily going to be able to make excellent and compelling EVs. These EVs will inevitably offer superior performance, in at least some respects, compared to the company’s own comparable gas/diesel vehicles. This is the dilemma.
Perhaps the closest existing Porsche vehicle to the Taycan is the more expensive Panamera. The problem is that, at “just under 10 seconds,” the ~$130,000 Taycan will actually have better acceleration times from 0–124 mph (0–200 km/h) than its top-of-the-range and much more expensive ($188,000) Panamera Sport Turismo Turbo S E-Hybrid sibling (which requires around 11 seconds). It may also be faster in track performance on some circuits.
So, other things being equal, the Taycan could be expected to take sales from the Panamera. It will also likely have much lower margins than the Panamera (at least initially). For reasons of internal financial health, Porsche must try to make sure that other things are not equal, and try to market the Taycan in such a way that it pulls in buyers from outside the base of Porsche loyalists, not cannibalize Panamera sales. The industry term for this is “conquest sales” — pulling buyers and potential sales away from other brands.
Klaus Zellmer, Porsche Cars North America CEO, has said a number of things that address this issue. First off, he admitted (in a November 2017 CNBC interview here) that Porsche may, in the past, have lost some customers to Tesla:
“We have lots of respect for Tesla – and, yes, I’m sure there are some Porsche customers, that in terms of connectivity, digital stuff in the car, and electric battery in the vehicles, didn’t find the car that they wanted with Porsche so they bought somewhere else.”
Zellmer has more recently said, in a December 2018 interview with Tim Stevens, that some of the reservation holders for the Taycan are also Tesla owners:
“More than half of the people that are signing up for the Taycan have not owned or do not own a Porsche … if we look at our source of business, people coming from other brands, it’s Audi, BMW, or Mercedes. The no. 1 brand now is Tesla. That’s pretty interesting, to see that people that were curious about the Tesla for very good reasons obviously don’t stop being curious.”
Too Cautious? A Rising Tide….
Given the brand’s traditional high price point, Porsche’s marketing folks probably have the entrenched habit of looking at sales as something close to a zero-sum game, and thinking in terms of “conquest.” They may figure that there’s just not that many buyers with $130,000 or more to spend on a sedan/coupe, and there’s an understandable fear that a proportion of them will already be customers of the Panamera.
But the Taycan will eventually offer versions reportedly closer to $90,000 or $100,000, which — though still a very small market — is much larger than the $130,000 market. As an early EV mover ahead of other traditional luxury brands, Porsche has every opportunity to pull in customers who want an EV from an established luxury brand, somewhat familiar sports car symbols and associations, and a traditionally well-appointed luxury interior.
However, with the speed of growth of the global EV market (around 60% annually over recent years), especially in China with a rapidly growing affluent class, I think Porsche is underestimating the potential size of the market that the Taycan can tap into. As a (perhaps unwelcome) example, the Tesla Model 3 has proven that a great EV can pull in buyers from traditional price segments well below it.
A Taycan priced under or around $100,000 could almost certainly pull in sales from purchasers of sedan/coupe versions of Jaguar, BMW, Audi, Mercedes, Maserati, etc. who might normally not venture above $70,000 or $80,000. Value retention and running cost advantages of EVs will mean that the overall total cost of ownership (TCO) is likely at least as good on the Taycan as those “alternatives.” Well-off buyers will no doubt be aware of this and be happy to make the stretch. That means there’s already a much larger market for these base and close-to-base variants of the Taycan than Porsche sedan/coupes would normally hope to address. So, I’d certainly expect to see Porsche’s overall sales volume climb from the introduction of the Taycan.
Admittedly, marketing the Taycan does involve some necessary dexterity from Porsche’s marketing department in order to not cannibalize too many sales from within the brand. It’s obviously been tempting for Porsche to think in terms of pulling in interest from existing high-end EV owners, who are either very tech-forwards, or very environmentally minded, or some combination. It’s understandable that Porsche has favored this approach, and tried to pitch the Taycan head to head with Tesla’s offerings (which in reality offer a significantly distinct value proposition), rather than risk playing the Panamera and Taycan against each other.
The overall EV market is growing very rapidly, and has just as wide a range of pricing points as the gas/diesel market does. And an early-mover advantage, especially in the luxury sports coupe segment, is still there for Porsche to grab hold of. It can expect to pull sales up from somewhat lower price points, as other innovative, high-value-proposition EVs have clearly demonstrated. The Taycan is certainly innovative enough, and no doubt attractive enough, that Porsche can expect to grow the overall size of its pie. Global EV market share is growing rapidly, but is still only around 2.5% of the global auto market. Most vehicles sold are still burning fossils and are not particularly innovative — there is still huge room for all EVs to grow much further, especially for early entrants like the Taycan.
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