The "car of the future" isn't even out yet and it's outdated.
It’s official, the Tesla Model S has once again managed to capture headlines and attention spans as Elon Musk decided that now is the time to roll out his new 100 kWh battery pack. The modern battery is a product of Tesla drastically turning up the heat because as a company that has never made a profit, it can’t afford to fall behind when there are billions invested against it. According to Tesla, the new Model S will do 0-60 mph in a stomach churning 2.5 seconds, and have a range of over 300 miles.
Of course, it will feature all the signature next-generation features that we know and love such as Autopilot, a large no-nonsense touch screen, and a cult membership included in the price. As for the performance stats, they sound similar to another car of the future that we can’t wait for, the Porsche Mission E. Given the Tesla’s recent advancements and the company’s new announcement, the Model S P100D now begs the question, is Porsche’s $1 billion investment in the Mission E worth it anymore? Irony would be watching one of the most profitable automakers fall into the same red money sucking pit that Tesla is in while pursuing Tesla’s success. Thing is, Porsche can't back out now because it is too involved.
When the concept was unveiled at the 2015 Frankfurt Auto Show, it struck a chord with the audience. The concept was pretty, much more than the Model S, but as Porsche found with the Panamera, the uglier car car still be a winner. What is needed, especially in a car that us aimed squarely at those who want an early relic of the future, is a breakthrough. Not that the Mission E doesn’t deliver in the realm of technology, the lack of door mirrors is the first clue of that. Like the mirrors, many of the Mission E’s functions have been migrated to less simple but easier to use means. Selecting a menu on the 5 screen OLED display or the holographic screen on the passenger’s side involves gestures or eye movements and minimal amounts of physical touch.
The mirrors themselves are now cameras, which regurgitate their contents onto the lower corners of the windshield, calling for less eye movement on the part of the driver and improved aerodynamics and aesthetics for the car. All of these toys are icing on the cake to add to the area that really counts, the powertrain. For the Mission E, Porsche is taking a different approach by using the 800-volt battery from its 919 Hybrid race car that should enable for more quick transfers of power from charger to battery and from battery to electric motors. Charging is where the main benefit is seen because using a wired unit (the wireless induction charger will likely feature different charging times), the Mission E can get an 80% charge (250 miles worth of juice) in 15 minutes.
The same feat would take a Tesla Model S hooked up to a Supercharger 58 minutes to pull off (4:50 hours on a 72 amp wall connector). To help manage weight, one of the main enemies of the Model S, Porsche will use a combination of carbon fiber, aluminum, and steel all placed strategically to ensure strength and help with the diet. A carbon fiber monocoque dubbed the Weissach Frame will encapsulate passengers in the cabin for the first time in a four-seat production car. That will certainly help with lap times, as will the four-wheel steering system. Despite all of these advances, the Mission E is only predicted to have a 0-60 mph acceleration time of 3.5 seconds (it’s nice to live in a time where we can complain about a sub 4 second acceleration time).
While formidable, the Model S P100D outdoes that by 1 second, or a year in racing terms. The current Tesla also outwits the future Porsche with toys like Autopilot and over the air updates. This leaves only two foreseeable advantages to the Mission E. The first is quality, the one area that tends to hurt Tesla. As a new company that is more technology provider than automaker, Tesla is having trouble nailing down some of the aspects that makes a car feel more refined, a practice that veteran car companies have nailed down. The second is the slight technological and aesthetic difference between the two cars. The new Model S already meets the Mission E’s range targets and surpasses its proposed acceleration time.
To cope, Porsche will need to bank on the differences between the Mission E and Model S being enough to lull some buyers over who want the alternative option. The problem is that the Mission E isn’t due until 2020 and the Tesla is available right now. In four years when the Mission E makes it to market, who knows how much further the Model S will have advanced. Of course, we know that Porsche isn’t made of dummies, and as such, it wouldn’t let a $1 billion investment go down the drain. However, from where we sit, we can already see that the Porsche Mission E will be a failure if it continues on its current trajectory, a victim of an industry that is unforgiving to late adopters, unless it decides to up the ante by surprising us with a better Mission E.