Tesla has become synonymous with electric vehicles. That could soon change

The Mach-E, Polestar 2 and ID.4 are strong challengers.

December 19, 2020, 8:00 AM

It's no secret electric vehicles are storming showrooms. We're not talking about Tesla's Cybertruck or Model Y either.

All automakers, from mainstream brands to uber luxury marques, are giving consumers their antidote to the ubiquitous and now quotidian Teslas that have silently yet masterfully usurped the freeways and local roads Americans traverse each day. Like it or not, Elon Musk shook up the turgid, staid automotive industry and single-handedly claimed the term "electric vehicle" as his company's own. EVs may only account for 1.7% of U.S. auto sales, but the majority are Teslas, namely the Model 3.

"Elon Musk focused on performance and technology and effectively captured a demo in the U.S. that was up for grabs -- the young, tech-orientated car buyer," Karl Brauer, executive analyst at iSeeCars.com, told ABC News. "Tesla has cultivated such a loyal and passionate following ... every EV that doesn't have a Tesla badge is at a natural disadvantage."

PHOTO: Tesla Model Y
Tesla Model Y

Tesla showed that EVs could be stylish, fun and accessible, according to John Voelcker, a longtime automotive journalist. Now legacy automakers are charged with an Augean task.

"The next truly revolutionary car is the affordable, 250-mile range EV," he told ABC News.

With nearly 90 EV models available for sale in 2021, the choices could seem endless -- and confusing -- for even early adopters of the battery technology.

"There will be a tidal wave of EVs coming to the marketplace over the next few years and there won't be enough buyers for all of them," Ed Kim, vice president of industry analysis at AutoPacific, told ABC News. "We are headed for a glut in the marketplace."

If you're ready to leap into the emissions-free universe, the options are "pretty neat," Kim said. "There is a lot of differentiation between each model."

Here are the EVs wooing Tesla owners and neophytes alike.

Mustang Mach-E SUV

PHOTO: 2021 Mustang Mach-E SUV
2021 Mustang Mach-E SUV
Ford Motor

When Ford Motor Co. announced last November it was building its first-ever crossover EV with -- gasp -- the Mustang name attached, auto journalists and pony car die-hards were dumbstruck. The muscular Mach-E, with its traditional Mustang design cues, modern interface and latest driver-assistance technology, has since won over the hearts of skeptics. Customers snapped up the first edition Mach-E and Ford has "met all the goals we had for reservations," Darren Palmer, global director of Ford's battery electric vehicles, told ABC News. "The Mustang badge added a lot of value to the car."

Moreover, nearly 65% of Mach-E customers are new to the company.

"We're seeing a lot of people come to Ford who weren't there before, especially on the coasts," Palmer added. "It's one of our most important vehicles and indicates Ford's ability to compete in this new space of EVs."

Kim ranks the Mach-E high on his list of EV standouts.

"It's the first non-Tesla product that has the ability to get the mainstream consumer to sit up and pay attention to an EV," he explained.

The Mach-E, starting at $42,895, comes with standard and extended-range battery options and either rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. It delivers an EPA-estimated range of at least 300 miles with the extended-range battery and RWD options. Two performance versions -- the GT and GT Performance Edition -- will be available by fall 2021. Acceleration on the Mach-E? Blistering, if you choose the GT Performance Edition: 0-60 mph in 3.5 seconds.

"The Mach-E GT will be faster than any performance Mustang you can buy at Ford," noted Voelcker. "Two-door coupes are a dying segment and this gives Mustang a long life."

Added Brauer: "The range is competitive with the Model Y. The styling is brilliant. It's roomy inside. Ford threw everything at the Mach-E and pulled every lever ... to bust through the resistance so many people have to EVs. The Mach-E will be an interesting market experiment."

Audi e-tron Sportback

PHOTO: 2020 Audi e-tron Sportback
2020 Audi e-tron Sportback

The German carmaker's first EV, the e-tron SUV, ticked all the boxes for Audi enthusiasts: ultra-luxurious, quick acceleration, precise steering and a smooth ride. More than 10,200 e-trons have been sold in the U.S. since May 2019. The latest addition to Audi's growing electric family is the e-tron Sportback, a smaller, four-door SUV coupe that targets consumers who prefer a sleeker silhouette and refined driving. The electric motors on the $69,100 e-tron Sportback produce 402 horsepower and 490 lb.-ft of torque and a soon-to-be released performance version increases the power, making the agile crossover "sharper and more dynamic." Its rivals, however, beat the e-tron Sportback's estimated 218-mile limit.

"Range is top of mind for us and we're looking to improve it," e-tron product manager Matt Mostafaei told ABC News. "A range of 218 miles is enough for most people's daily commutes."

The e-tron and e-tron Sportback are pulling in buyers who previously pledged allegiance to BMW and Lexus, two premium brands without an EV on the market, according to Mostafaei.

"These customers are ready to go electric," he added.

Kim expects sales of the e-tron Sportback to be low volume, making it a rare vehicle and good choice for Americans "who don't want a Tesla."

Audi is readying a third electric wunderkind for the masses: The anticipated e-tron GT, a slinky four-door coupe with a gently sloping roofline and low center of gravity. Marc Lichte, the company's head of design, has called it the "sexiest Audi -- ever."

Polestar 2

PHOTO: 2021 Polestar 2
2021 Polestar 2

The $59,000 Polestar 2 from Volvo's electric performance brand "will appeal to technophiles and is a legitimate competitor to the Model 3," Kim said.

Minimalist yet sporty, the all-electric, five-door fastback boasts 408 hp, 487 lb.-ft of torque and a 0-60 mph sprint of 4.45 seconds. The Scandinavian-influenced design extends to the interior, which Polestar proudly claims is "entirely vegan." Recycled wood accents, blockchain traceability and responsible cobalt mining all add to Polestar's environmentally friendly image.

The car's Android Automotive Operating System, which Polestar developed in collaboration with Google, may be even more of a selling point for undecided buyers, Kim noted. It gives users easy access to their Google account, apps and the search giant's virtual voice recognition assistant.

"It's marvelous -- the car becomes just another Android device that you own," Kim said.

Polestar Chief Operating Officer Jonathan Goodman said the carmaker's debut of Google's native infotainment system "will revolutionize the in-car experience and seamlessly integrate with one's connected lifestyle. The car is now part of your connected life (if you want it to be) not an enforced break in it."

He also pointed out that Polestar, like Tesla, has focused on a digital-first retail model and the company's retail spaces, opening across the U.S. and Canada, support the digital platform.

The trendy Polestar 2's estimated EPA range of 233 miles may be the only downside for drivers still wary about range anxiety.

"It's a perfectly good car but the range should be higher than it is for the size of its battery," said Voelcker.

The Polestar 2's cousin, the $53,990 Volvo XC40 Recharge, has similar qualities and characteristics that will also appeal to drivers, Brauer said.

"The XC40 Recharge takes all the positives of the non-EV version and adds a battery," he noted.

PHOTO: 2021 Volvo XC40 Recharge
2021 Volvo XC40 Recharge

Volkswagen ID.4

PHOTO: 2021 Volkswagen ID.4
2021 Volkswagen ID.4

The newly unveiled ID.4 could be the EV that convinces Americans to finally bid farewell to their gas-powered vehicles, Voelcker said. Reasonably priced and with an EPA-estimated range of 250 miles on a single charge, the pleasant ID.4 will not get lost in the coming raft of EVs.

"A lot of people are sitting on the fence. We have a product that makes the transition from [internal combustion engine] to EV really easy," Dustin Krause, Volkswagen's director of e-mobility, told ABC News. "We started from a white sheet of paper and asked, 'How do we make the best EV?'"

Pricing for the ID.4 Pro, Volkswagen's second EV (its first was the e-Golf, which ended production in 2019 after selling 18,277 units in the U.S.), starts at $39,995 before the $7,500 federal tax credit. The limited-run, $43,995 ID.4 1st Editions immediately sold out.

U.S. deliveries begin in March and fully refundable deposits of $100 are still being accepted on Volkswagen's website.

"There is strong curiosity for the vehicle," Krause said. "It's very intuitive, nimble, feels quick and handles great. Electrification is the foregone conclusion of where the marketplace is headed."

Porsche Taycan

PHOTO: 2020 Porsche Taycan 4S
2020 Porsche Taycan 4S

The $103,800 all-electric sedan from the storied sports car maker will be out of reach for many EV shoppers. But for the few who can afford the lightning fast car (happy with 0-60 in 2.6 seconds?), the pricey conveyance lives up to the brand's long-standing reputation.

Voelcker said it's the "most enjoyable" electric vehicle he's ever driven. True, its range (an estimated 201 miles) does not come close to the 402 miles on Tesla's Model S, its direct competitor. The rakish Taycan, however, may be the best alternative to the Model S, argued Brauer.

"The Taycan has broader appeal and I have more faith in its reliability," he said. "It's a traditional melding of Porsche's capabilities -- precision and performance -- but a pure EV."

Porsche has sold 4,000 Taycans in its first year of production. Two new models -- the 4S and Turbo -- were added and a Cross Turismo version is on the way. The Taycan's popularity "speaks to the ongoing 'mainstreaming' of EVs," Brauer said.

Kim summed up the choices this way: "The EVs on the market all have strengths and weaknesses. It's up to the consumer to decide what works best for them."

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