Germans are coming for Tesla, German paper says, so now it's 'interesting'

A recent article on electric cars in the German business daily Handelsblatt suggests that only after German car companies chose to compete head-to-head with Tesla did the 'contest' to produce electric cars become 'interesting.'

Benoit Tessier/ Reuters/ File
The Tesla Model X car is displayed on media day at the Paris auto show in Paris, France, on September 29, 2016.

At times, those of us who cover the auto industry fall prey to stereotypes of the German auto industry.

It can seem to observers that the collective belief of BMW, Daimler, and VW Group is that nothing happens in the industry until it's been done by one of their three companies—preferably all three.

A recent article on electric cars in the German business daily Handelsblatt does little to dispel that belief.

Titled "The Germans Are Coming for Tesla Motors," the piece opens with the following summary:

In the global race to bring electric cars to market, the German carmakers have woken up from their slumber. The contest is finally getting interesting.

Which appear to suggest that only after German car companies chose to compete head-to-head with Tesla did the "contest" to produce electric cars become "interesting."

Hmmmmmmmmm.

The Nissan Leaf, the world's best-selling electric car, was built not by a German company but a Japanese one.

And the first generation of the Volkswagen e-Golf, its closest current competitor from a German company, was pretty much a dead ringer for the Leaf in its power output, rated range, and price—almost four years later.

Then there's the upcoming Chevrolet Bolt EV, the first mass-priced electric car with a range of 200 miles or more.

Last we looked, Chevy is owned by General Motors, a U.S. company.

True, the BMW i3 launched for 2014 was an ambitious attempt by a German company at using advanced technology to produce a remarkably innovative vehicle—including the option of a tiny two-cylinder range-extending engine, still a unique option offered by no other maker.

But its prices were $10,000 or more higher than those of the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf, meaning many buyers simply wouldn't consider it.

And the i3 still hasn't reached the sales totals of either of those cars, in the U.S. or globally.

But the big change came in 2013, once the Tesla Model S had launched in late 2012 and German makers were able to get their hands on the Silicon Valley startup's luxury four-door and tear it apart.

As we noted in recounting a story passed along to us by a German industry insider, the Tesla Model S was a huge shock to Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz—but perhaps no maker more so than Porsche, which had been hugely successful with its fast, sporty Panamera four-door.

The Porsche product team had to grapple with the appearance of an electric car, from a highly unlikely company, that was as fast, smoother, and equally as desirable as their prime offering.

Moreover, it was luring away some of their customers in the most advanced and tech-forward parts of their market.

So when Audi, BMW, and Mercedes had similar experiences, according to Handelsblatt, then the electric-car business actually became interesting.

We might argue that the electric-car industry was pretty interesting long before the Germans woke up to the threat Tesla seemed to pose.

We recall the days when we were told by a Volkswagen executive that if U.S. consumers were smarter, they'd stop buying silly Toyota Prius hybrids that were no fun to drive and switch to that company's clean-diesel offerings.

And we know how that turned out.

Meanwhile, Tesla Motors said this week that it is moving forward on schedule with its planned Model 3, a mass-priced car starting at $35,000 with a range of 200 miles or more.

It still plans to start production of that car next year, said CEO Elon Musk.

We're sure he'll be gratified to know that now, at last, his company's cars are "interesting."

This story originally appeared on GreenCarReports.

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