European carmakers take on Tesla

European carmakers including BMW AG, Volkswagen AG and PSA Group put on a brave face Tuesday amid mounting risks from the coronavirus outbreak, launching an electric-car offensive aimed blunting the strength of Tesla Inc.

With the Geneva car show canceled due to the epidemic’s spread across the region, companies set up virtual displays and media calls with executives to recreate some of the buzz usually generated at the annual Swiss expo.

The effort comes against a backdrop of sliding sales and disrupted supply chains as factories in China — the epicenter of the virus and the world’s biggest car market — are only gradually resuming output.

Worldwide plug-in electric car sales fell 4% in January, with Tesla dominating the market, according to a report published this week by Bernstein analysts including Mark Newman. Elon Musk’s company sold 30,000 units during the first month of the year, followed by Renault SA and BMW with 10,000 cars each and PSA’s Peugeot with 7,000.

Here’s a roundup from the ‘virtual’ Geneva show:

BMW’s i4 Electric Sedan

Chief Executive Officer Oliver Zipse billed the model as having “the typical BMW genes that you wouldn’t see in any other car.” The i4 will slot in next to the SUV-sized iNEXT as the luxury auto giant’s two flagship electric offerings in 2021.

Reminiscent of the company’s bread-and-butter 3 Series, its low-slung aerodynamic design helps maximize the car’s electric range and sports car-like styling.

The battlefield extends beyond Europe to lucrative markets including the U.S., where German brands long dominated the entry-level sedan segment. Tesla’s Model 3 has overtaken rivals, apparently outselling the once category-defining BMW 3 Series and Mercedes C-Class combined.

Volkswagen’s SUV

Volkswagen unveiled the ID.4, a prototype for its first fully-electric SUV to flank its ID.3 hatchback later this year. The latest model will be produced and sold in Europe, China and the U.S., whereas the ID.3 is mainly for European buyers.

The ID.4 will help take output of battery-powered vehicles by the world’s biggest automaker to as many as 1.5 million by 2025, according to the company.

That’s more than three times as many as Tesla sold worldwide last year. VW has a lot riding on its electric lineup, not least recouping through sales an unprecedented investment of 33 billion euros ($37 billion) across the group through 2024.

PSA Talks Buyers

The head of Peugeot maker PSA, Carlos Tavares, said between 10% and 20% of consumers are opting for battery-powered versions of its electrified models, a proportion that still leaves a lot to be desired.

Speaking during a conference call, the executive who is steering a planned tie up with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV said the buyers’ profile remains an “environmentally-engaged” subset of the market who are making statements through the purchases.

The looming battle for carmakers is to lower the costs of electric cars and make them affordable to as may people as possible, he said.

Now read: Renault’s new electric car lets you add batteries to drive further

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European carmakers take on Tesla