Why Tesla is running out of time
ON the approach to the Geneva motor show a huge advertising billboard proclaims cheekily: "Your turn, Elon".
The message, aimed at Tesla founder Elon Muck, comes from Hyundai, which will launch an electric version of the Kona SUV in Europe later this year.
Truth is, Elon made his move with the Model S six years ago and his car industry rivals are only just making theirs.
But the billboard banter illustrates the fact that Tesla's time in the sun could be coming to an end.
Like with most people who are ahead of their time, Musk has enjoyed a honeymoon period while the rest of the world caught up.
That will change dramatically over the next two years, as the car industry - and in particular the luxury car market Tesla plays in - finally sets the EV wheels in motion.
In reality, the Hyundai Kona is not a huge threat to Tesla. After all the mainstream Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Bolt have had little impact on Tesla's success at the top end of the market.
But a string of luxury heavyweights is lining up to take a shot at the champ.
Jaguar will be first when it launches the I-Pace SUV later this year, then a succession of challengers including the industry's most storied brands will follow.
At the top end, Porsche, Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi will launch fully electric vehicles in the next year or two, while Volkswagen, Nissan, Honda and Hyundai will be nipping at Tesla's heels at the lower end, where its troubled Model 3 is positioned.
The problem for Musk is what the industry lacks in innovation, it will make up for in execution. And if the past few months is any indication, execution isn't Musk's strong suit.
At the Geneva show, the usual empty talk of feasibility testing and concept prove-outs was replaced by production launch dates, infrastructure rollouts and sales projections.
Porsche, which will launch its Mission E sedan next year, has been working hard behind the scenes to ensure that its first electric car is as quick to charge as it is off the mark. Its acceleration will be in the same ballpark as the Tesla Model S - at 3.5 seconds from 0-100km/h - but its batteries will be substantially quicker to charge thanks to higher-powered recharging stations.
The company's chief executive Oliver Blume told journalists at the show that the company's recharging stations will be twice as powerful as Tesla's (800 volts to 400) and be able to deliver 400km of range in just 15 minutes compared with the two hours it takes to deliver a similar charge to a Tesla Model S.
For anyone travelling interstate, that's a pretty compelling advantage.
Blume says he has great respect for Tesla, but he's also confident about beating the US maker at its own game.
"I have a lot of respect for what Elon Musk is doing with Tesla. He was very innovative, but we are using totally different technology," he says.
Part of that confidence comes from belonging to the Volkswagen group, the world's largest car maker, which delivers huge economies of scale.
While Tesla had to go it alone to set up its recharging stations in Australia, Porsche says it will work with stablemates Audi and Volkswagen to grow its coverage around the world.
In Europe, it is partnering with rivals BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Ford to jointly develop infrastructure, which is not cheap. A single charging station costs roughly $300,000 to set up.
Audi showed a camouflaged version of the its e-Tron SUV at Geneva and has 250 prototypes roaming the Swiss capital in a show of strength ahead of a launch later this year. The Volkswagen ID will follow in 2020.
And once the basic electric car underpinnings are in place, the carmakers will be able to roll out variants with monotonous regularity. Porsche's E Mission sedan has already spawned a high riding all-wheel drive wagon and Volkswagen has unveiled no less than four EV concepts that will all see production over the next couple of years.
Mercedes-Benz's EQC SUV and BMW's i4 will soon join the fray, increasing the pressure on Tesla.
Every new model will bring advancements in technology, whether it be in performance, range or driveability.
No matter how successfully Musk overcomes his Model 3 teething problems, he won't find the market as easy as he did with the Model S and Model X.
They say competition improves the breed but it also trims the profit margins. Musk's vision and ability to innovate are indisputable. His ability to deliver results in a competitive market is about to get a stern test.