The Plug-In Hybrid Porsche Panamera Is The Tesla Model S's First Real CompetitorS

When you think of Porsche, you immediately think of the 911. If some folks had a choice, you would go to a Porsche dealer and all they would say to you is "what color 911 would you like?" and give you no other options. The 911 is Porsche's most recognizable and legendary car, but it isn't nearly their most important. That honor goes to the new Panamera E-Hybrid. And that's because I think it's the first car to fire a shot at the Tesla Model S.

The E-Hybrid is the first plug-in hybrid in the premium class that will actually be produced to scale. I'm not counting the Fisker Karma here because I don't think that can be thought of as a true success, what with the possible bankruptcy preparations and all.

So that makes the Panamera an industry first. Under the skin, it also shares nearly every spec with the Panamera Sport Turismo Concept we saw in Paris, which puts it concept to production in just six months. That's ridic. It just doesn't share the skin, but I do expect to see that on the next-gen Panamera; This was just a refresh.

The Plug-In Hybrid Porsche Panamera Is The Tesla Model S's First Real CompetitorS

But here's the biggest part: It puts Porsche into a segment of the market where it has never been a player. That would be the green, save-the-Earth, global warming, eco-millionaire crowd. That's a market that Tesla pretty much has cornered.

Not anymore.

As I see it, the closest competitor Panamera E-Hybrid is the Tesla Model S. The E-Hybrid and Model S 85kWH Performance have eerily similar stats. The Porsche and Tesla both make 416 horsepower, both have about 440 lb-ft of torque, both are rear wheel drive, the Tesla is one second faster to 60 (4.2 vs 5.2, thanks to the Tesla's instant torque), both have starting prices of nearly $100,000 (Porsche told me a loaded Panamera will be more expensive than the Model S), weigh around 4,500 pounds (the Porsche's weight isn't released yet, but I'm betting it's close to the current 4,350 pound Panamera S Hybrid), you can charge both in your garage, and both advertise driving dynamics.

The Plug-In Hybrid Porsche Panamera Is The Tesla Model S's First Real CompetitorS

We don't know the range of the E-Hybrid yet, but I anticipate it'll be better than the 300 miles the Tesla gets. The Panamera also gets about 20 miles to a charge of its battery. That is far less than the Model S, obviously.

I spoke to Porsche about this, and when I asked if the Tesla was a competitor, they said they "didn't really think of it that way, because a Tesla is an all-electric car." I was also told that maybe Mercedes will have something that competes with the E-Hybrid in the next S-Class, and I bet they will.

But Tesla wants the Model S to be viewed not as an electric car, but just as a car. And I'm betting that people that look at the Model S will cross shop a Panamera based on the emphasis on both efficiency and driving dynamics. Hell, they both kind of look similar.

Yes, the Porsche still needs to stop and fuel up, but the Tesla needs to stop and charge for a good bit on longer trips. That's where Porsche still has an advantage.

As we saw from the Tesla Road Trips that took place earlier this year, yes, a trip from DC to Boston is possible. It's about an eight hour drive for a car including a fuel stop or two and a quick bite to eat.

The Plug-In Hybrid Porsche Panamera Is The Tesla Model S's First Real CompetitorS

The trip took CNN about 13 hours earlier this year (I spoke to CNN, and was told their trip did take longer because of filming. Still, I'd expect 11 hours to be a good estimate), and that was in favorable traffic conditions. That's because they had to make two stops to fill up the car with some sweet, sweet, electricity at Tesla's superfast Supercharger stations.

Maybe it is an unfair comparison. A 240v charger gets the Panamera full in 2.5 hours, which then gives it 20ish miles of electric range. Half an hour at a Tesla Supercharger gives you 150 miles of range. That's a big win in range and time for the Tesla.

Thing is, there are two superchargers in the Northeast US between DC and New York City. If you live in Red Bank, NJ, for example, your charging options are much slower than a supercharger since you don't live close to one. There are at least 20 gas stations directly off of I-95 between DC and Boston, and that doesn't include stops that are just off of exits.

I know this has been beaten to death and I don't want to spend more time on it than I have to, but the lack of refilling options are a valid concern.

Getting the car fixed is an issue too. Porsche has a robust service and dealer network throughout the USA with about 190 dealers and. Tesla has 20 currently open in North America across six states, and one in Canada with 14 more "coming soon." Tesla does say most service can be handled remotely, but in certain cases, a car will have to go to a service center. And that could be an expensive tow.

The Plug-In Hybrid Porsche Panamera Is The Tesla Model S's First Real CompetitorS

If you want a true, zero emissions car (UPDATE: As commenters point out, manufacturing and electricity use fossil fuels, I'm just talking moving from place to place here) and are able to deal with some of the shortcomings of being an early adopter, then the Tesla is still your only choice.

But if you want to give off the impression of being green while you buy an incredibly expensive sedan, the Tesla isn't the only choice anymore. There are people that won't consider the Porsche because it has a gas engine. But I think that's a minority of eco-minded consumers.

There are eco-conscious buyers in the world that want electric power but also want to be able to take their cars on road trips. And they want to do it easily. The Porsche will be able to commute mostly on electricity and recharge fully at work. It's like a big, fast, nice Chevy Volt. Tesla has done monumental work to bring the Model S to the mainstream, but now there's a car that can actually be cross-shopped against it, and it's pretty comparable in a lot of ways.

Tesla wanted to compete with premium and mainstream manufacturers. Well, they now have competition from one of the greatest manufacturers in all the business. This is going to be an interesting time in EV and range extended development, and it'll be even more interesting to see how Tesla reacts.

I'm looking forward to it.