An electric vehicle (EV) which ends range anxiety could give the segment’s sales a much-needed boost and persuade fleets to look again at the technology.
Tesla has unveiled a fully-electric executive saloon called the Model S, which offers a 300-mile range on a single charge – three times more than the 100 miles typically offered by other EVs currently on the market.
A right-hand drive version will be available in the UK towards the end of next year. Pricing starts at $50,000 (£31,000) in the US for a lower-powered entry level model, capable of 150 miles before recharging, and rises to $70,000 (£44,000) for the full-blown 300-mile range car.
A spokesman said transportation costs and the need to tailor the vehicle for the UK market would push the price up a little, although the car will qualify for the Government’s £5,000 plug-in grant.
Expect pricing to start at just under £40,000 for the entry level car, rising to £50,000 for the extended range model –not including the £5,000 grant. In comparison, the new Mercedes-Benz E-Class Hybrid is priced £39,645.
Range and price have historically proved to be a major stumbling block to the early adoption of electric vehicle technology by many fleets.
However, some of the country’s biggest leasing companies have told Fleet News that the Model S may widen the appeal of EVs to a mainly sceptical fleet market.
Tusker has seen some interest in EVs from fleets but has not seen it translate into actual sales.
“There is still too much uncertainty,” said Scott Lloyd, Tusker’s remarketing and project manager.
“Following the initial sales enquiry and their own research into electric cars, fleet decision makers are turned-off by the high list prices compared to alternatives, such as diesel, petrol or hybrid-engined cars.”
Tusker also highlighted concerns over the lack of range, which limits the number of real-life applications.
“Any reasonably-priced electric car that removed the issue over range anxiety and answered these concerns would certainly be viewed more favourably,” said Lloyd.
Tesla uses a new platform developed in-house to achieve such a revolutionary change in range.
The car’s chassis is laid out like a skateboard and houses a flat lithium-ion battery under the floor of the car to power a compact electric drivetrain between the rear wheels.
The Model S will launch with the most powerful 300-mile range battery, but lower capacity, cheaper units will follow, starting from 150 miles. A mid-range 230-mile unit is expected to be the biggest seller.
The most powerful battery option and performance pack offers 416bhp and 0-60 in 4.4 seconds, while the entry level model will still get you there in 5.9 seconds.
Matthew Dyer, commercial director at LeasePlan, believes the Model S’s credentials could bode well for the American manufacturer.
He said: “A 300-mile range is certainly a great selling point for a fully electric vehicle and will go a long way to combating range anxiety.”
Nigel Trotman, head of strategic consultancy at Alphabet, said: “Such a vehicle would clearly help the overall market.”
However, he warned the manufacturer would need to have “realistic aspirations” where the price was concerned.
“A totally untested and unrecognised brand coming to the UK will also have its challenges,” said Roddy Graham, LeaseDrive’s commercial director.
Tesla has employed George Blankenship, who spent six years at Apple developing and rolling out stores for the IT giant, to help raise its profile.
Instead of a dealer network, it will rely on Tesla ‘shops’ being opened in high footfall areas such as shopping centres. These are aimed to help familiarise people with the technology and handle the same mobile servicing offered on the Tesla Roadster – its first EV.
“Our goal has always been to build the best car in the world and set new standards for safety, handling, range and performance,” said Elon Musk, Tesla CEO and founder.
“We are achieving that with the Model S in North America and it’s time to introduce it to Europe.”