2014 has brought several interesting new competitors for Tesla's expensive and range-limited electric cars. For instance, in the mid-price segment (competing with a mid-priced Tesla that's still at least three years away) there's a new Honda Accord hybrid which starts at $29,000 and goes 0-60 in 7.2 seconds while getting 50 mpg in the city and 45 mpg on the highway.
In the luxury segment (competing directly with Tesla's Model S) is the new Audi A7 TDI, a "clean diesel" model that goes 0-60 in 5.5 seconds, gets 38 mpg on the highway, has all-wheel drive (unlike the Model S) and (including the Tesla's tax credits and assuming a standard dealer discount on the Audi) sells for at least $10,000 less than a comparably equipped Model S85 which actually can't be "comparably equipped" as Tesla doesn't offer many of the Audi's features. In fact, in the latest issue of Consumer Reports the Tesla-friendly automotive department actually writes that for most people the Audi is considerably more practical than a Model S, primarily because unlike a Model S85 which in real-world conditions offers a bit over 200 miles of highway range with extremely limited (and painfully slow) recharging options, both of these cars (and many similar ones) provide 800 miles of highway range and the ability to be completely refueled in five minutes almost anywhere in America (or Europe).
I write about these Hondas and Audis not to turn Seeking Alpha into an issue of Car and Driver but instead to point out why the Model S (and its Model X successor) will remain limited production "automotive gadgets" for a small subset of wealthy people while the so-called "Model E" slated to appear in 2017 already has a far more practical competitor existing today. If this Honda is available now, would anyone care to guess how well the 2017 Accord Hybrid might perform?
On another tack, Tesla fans often cite the company's proprietary Supercharger network as evidence of an insurmountable lead in electric cars and Tesla-only access to it as a reason to "choose Tesla." However, while there are currently fewer than 100 Superchargers worldwide, a consortium of Japanese car makers (Nissan, Toyota, Subaru and Mitsubishi) now has 1000 fast chargers in Europe alone and over 3500 worldwide. And while these CHAdeMO chargers currently charge at approximately half the rate of a Supercharger (roughly 60kW vs. 120kW), they are designed to be easily upgraded to 120kW.
Meanwhile, the Combined Charging Standard (NYSE:CCS)-- while just beginning its rollout-- has the support of a consortium of manufacturers including Audi, BMW, Chrysler, Volkswagen, Mercedes, GM, Ford and Porsche. Although it will initially charge (in "Level 2" form) at 90kW (approximately 75% of the rate of a Supercharger), in "Level 3" guise (a standard to be set in the near future) it will charge at 200kW, which is 67% faster than a Supercharger.
While an extra-cost adaptor can be used to allow Teslas to charge on the CHAdeMO standard and there will almost certainly be one made for CCS, within a relatively short period of time (certainly "short" relative to what's price into Tesla's current $26 billion fully-diluted market cap) there will be no reason for someone to buy a Tesla because of its Superchargers. In fact, thinking about the financial resources behind CHAdeMO and CCS vs. Tesla's go-it-alone strategy reminds me of the old Betamax vs. VHS competition, and if you're in the rarefied air of someone who can afford a Tesla, I assume you're old enough to know how that turned out.
Disclosure: I am short TSLA. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.