At $390bn, Tesla is worth a lot to investors. In fact, it’s worth more than all of Germany’s carmakers combined.

Europe started out as the birthplace of the automobile, but it has become the laggard — and not just as far as stock market valuations go.

In the 12 years since Elon Musk released his first full-electric sports car, he’s expanded into battery production at Tesla’s Gigafactory, deployed dedicated charging infrastructure worldwide and developed products that let consumers generate and store energy. His Roadster has become the reference for super-fast travel on a battery and his electric sedans have climbed the rankings to compete with Nissan for the world’s most sold electric car.

Tesla Roadster. Credit: Tesla

In that time frame, prestigious brands in Europe, the likes of Volkswagen and Daimler in Germany but also Renault and Peugeot in France, have mostly struggled with a diesel emissions scandal and displayed a sluggish attitude to shifting to battery-powered cars. 

Pessimists say the fate of European carmakers shows the region’s inability to transform even the most brilliant ideas and finest engineering talent into disruptive innovation at scale.

“It’s not lack of vision that is plaguing Europe — carmakers like Renault have long had the vision of a future with electric, connected and autonomous vehicles,” says Francois Veron, the cofounder of investment fund Newfund. “But they failed at industrialising that vision, at adapting their production and supply chains to the new business models of electric cars.”

“Real disruption is more likely to come from an independent player than from the incumbents,” says Veron. “A heavily financed independent player.”

But while Europe does not have a single Tesla equivalent, it does have several companies doing parts of what Tesla does and in many cases doing it better. 

Without the media might of the Musk empire, they are less well known, but there are companies such as Rimac making faster electric roadsters, companies like Skeleton Technologies making more powerful ultracapacitors and Einride making electric self-driving trucks.

Here’s part one of our series looking at Elon Musk’s empire and the European technology companies emerging as its rivals. Part one is focusing on cars and batteries, part two on space and part three on hyperloop. 

Part one: vroom

Cars are one of the most visible parts of Tesla, and make up the majority of its revenues. In the second quarter of 2020, car sales accounted for 86% of its reported $6bn sales. A newly launched Model Y has got car pundits salivating.  

But perhaps the most emblematic of Tesla’s successes lies in its ability to deploy a wide-spanning network of dedicated, ultra-fast chargers called superchargers. They’ve played a key role in helping Tesla’s cars stand out from the rest, by addressing consumers’ fear of running out of juice in an electric vehicle. 

In fact, infrastructure that allows for a relatively short charging pit stop along the way is perhaps the only segment where Tesla truly has no equivalents in Europe. 

The company boasts nearly 2,000 stations in Europe and the Middle East. Alternatives, even added together and helped by state subsidies, form a smaller network of disparate chargers that are all less powerful — hence slower to refill a battery — and are often faced with compatibility issues.

Every other part of the electric car ecosystem has Europeans in the ring, battling it out with Tesla. Here are the names worth knowing:

Tesla’s hypercar challengers in Europe

Rimac (Croatia)

Tesla’s Roadster makes claims on being the quickest car in the world. According to the company, it’s able to go from 0-60 mph in just 1.9 seconds, and has a top speed of more than 250 mph.

Croatia’s Rimac may be able to just pip Tesla’s record, with claims that its C_Two electric hypercar can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 1.85 seconds, a whisker faster than the Roadster. And the C_Two claims a top speed of 258 mph. 

Mind you, Rimac’s C_Two isn’t in production yet. Any prospective customers will have to wait for 2021 to take delivery, and there are likely to be only a very limited number of vehicles made. Your likelihood of owning a C_Two is probably a lot lower than owning a Roadster.

Rimac C_Two. Credit: Rimac

Rimac, which began with Mate Rimac trying to pimp up his own very beat-up 1984 BMW when he was just 19, is clearly a very different (and much smaller) business than Tesla. But its mission to build electric motor cars that are, well, super fast, is having a surprisingly big reach across the car industry. 

Porsche owns around 15% of the company, and Hyundai Motor Group recently invested €80m as part of a new partnership which will see the two companies collaborate on a range of performance electric cars. A number of other carmakers, including Aston Martin and Pininfarina already use Rimac’s battery packs for their own electric supercars. 

With serious investors coming in now, Rimac is professionalising and gearing up to go much bigger. Plus, it just recently hired ex-Tesla engineer Chris Porritt as CTO. 

Piëch (Switzerland)

Piëch is based in Switzerland but it has deep roots in Germany and links back to Volkswagen.

The company was founded by Toni Piëch, the son of former Volkswagen chairman Ferdinand Piëch, whose own ancestors include Volkswagen founder Ferdinand Porsche.

It’s out to build on Germany’s history of top-notch engineering, combined with an electric motor and reviving iconic elements of classic sports car designs, to become the “leading luxury electric mobility brand”.

Piëch Car. Credit: Piëch

“In spirit, we go back to Ferdinand Porsche’s 1931 vision,” the company says on its website. “We aim to build a company that recaptures the artistry, craftsmanship and heritage of the past, but we emerge into 21st century with a new powertrain, a new business model, and an appetite for technology and disruption.”

The company’s Mark Zero all-electric model, scheduled to go on sale in 2022, can get to 100km/h in 3.2s, charges 80% of its battery in 4 minutes 40 seconds, and boasts a range of 500km on a single charge.

One specific: Piëch has no plans to invest in its own manufacturing and relies instead on a network of partners for production — carmakers with factories, assembly and supply chains already set up.

Nikola (US-based, with ties to Germany and Italy)

The other, much-hyped challenger to Tesla is Nikola

Admittedly that’s partly because of the name of the company, which refers to Nikola Tesla, the engineer and inventor who made important contributions during the 1900s to what we know about electrical supply systems. His surname inspired Musk’s company, and Nikola of course picked up on his first name.

Nikola is going head-to-head with Tesla in electric trucks. The company is US-based, but it does have a big European connection. 

Germany’s Robert Bosch and Italy’s Iveco, the truck-maker backed by the Agnelli family, each own 6% of Nikola and were instrumental in building the important parts of the company’s trucks. 

More than 200 Bosch employees were involved in building important parts of Nikola’s trucks, including the electric motor for the axle, the vehicle-control unit, the battery and the hydrogen fuel cell. The trucks themselves are being built in an Iveco factory in Germany.

Tesla’s trucks challengers in Europe

The Tesla programme for trailer trucks, dubbed Tesla Semi, has been pushed back a bunch of times and the first units are now expected to be delivered sometime in 2021.

Einride (Sweden)

Stockholm-based Einride’s trucks are not for consumers, but for the logistics industry. The company started off focused on developing self-driving trucks that would transport goods entirely autonomously or controlled remotely. Recently it has acknowledged that the transition to full autonomy may take some time, so it is also building trucks that have space for human drivers. 

The trucks will still be all-electric, however, and deals with big companies may do more to speed along the battery-powered revolution than any consumer-focused business. Einride recently signed a deal to supply trucks to German supermarket group Lidl, supporting Lidl’s ambition to make its supply chain emission-free.

Picture of Robert Falck, founder of Einride, for Sifted's Tech Innovators List
Robert Falck, founder of Einride.

Others include:

Volta Trucks (Sweden)

The company recently launched a purpose-built 16-tonne electric truck that can drive up to 200 km on a single charge. The company is expecting to sell 500 of the Volta Zero trucks in 2022, rising to 5000 by 2025. It is expecting to find strong demand in cities like London and Paris where diesel vehicles have been banned from the city centres. 

Tesla’s Gigafactory challengers in Europe

Musk called the Gigafactory “the machine that builds the machine” — where everything needed by Tesla would be made, most notably a huge number of lithium-ion batteries for its vehicles. Tesla has three such factories in operation so far, in Nevada, New York and Shanghai, with a factory near Berlin expected to be completed next year. 

The idea of the Gigafactory was not only to decrease Tesla’s reliance on overseas suppliers of batteries but bring the cost of production down to under $100 per KWh of energy storage, a level at which it becomes cheaper to build an electric powertrain than an internal combustion engine. 

The Nevada Gigafactory had a goal of producing 35 GWh per year by 2020. Opened in 2016, the Tesla facility has a clear head start, but in the past year or two a number of challengers have emerged in Europe: 

Northvolt (Sweden)

One of Europe’s biggest battery startups was founded by ex-Tesla employees. Peter Carlsson, who was global head of sourcing and supply chain at the company, worked closely with Musk to launch the Model S. Another Tesla alumnus, Paolo Cerruti, helped Carlsson launch Northvolt, which is building a giant battery factory in northern Sweden, aiming to produce 32GWh of capacity annually — just short of Tesla’s Nevada Gigafactory levels —  once it is fully up and running. The company raised $1bn last year from investors led by Volkswagen and Goldman Sachs.

Carlsson says that while China and the US have been in the lead so far when it comes to producing the batteries needed for electric cars, Europe now has an opportunity to catch up. 

What the Northvolt battery factory in northern Sweden will look like when ready.

“At present, we don’t have enough factories but looking at the projects being planned and constructed as we speak the future looks promising in Europe,” he says. “In Europe, there is a new momentum. We have seen actions in the regulatory space and Europe has started to flex its muscles by backing and financing car manufacturers and others along the supply chain – and the dynamics are strong. To be frank, the US has lost a bit of headway between the shift from Obama and Trump.”

“Europe now has to decide whether it will focus on satellite factories that rely on supplies from Asia or will it build its own ecosystem. There are advantages to the region to have its own ecosystem with all the actors across the supply chain including subcontractors, factories, support to universities and so on.”

“Strategically, it is possible to build it but we don’t have it ready for raw materials as yet. We have the conditions to create nickel and cobalt but it will take time. We are not alone, even in China they are dependent on building supply chains of raw materials, just look at what they are doing in parts of Africa and South America.”

In the meantime, Northvolt is developing patent-protected ways of recycling batteries more efficiently, so that part of Europe’s raw material needs could be supplied this way. 

Verkor (France)

The startup exited stealth mode and unveiled ambitious plans to deliver up to 50GWh of battery production capacity. Production in Verkor’s first gigafactory is scheduled to begin in 2023 with 16GWh capacity and ramp up from there. 

Backed by French industrial Schneider Electric, real estate group IDEC and the EU’s European Institute of Innovation & Technology (EIT), Verkor is currently looking for land to set up a gigafactory in France. The initial investment in the project is about €1.6bn.

It’s not the only French project of the sorts. Energy giant Total and carmaker PSA have set up a joint venture called Automotive Cells Company, which is also aiming to start deliveries in 2023. The first phase of the project involves a €200m investment and a pilot plant built around an existing facility in Nersac, France, owned by Saft, Total’s battery production arm. Total took over startup Saft in 2016 for €950m.

Fast charging 

Europe is also developing breakthrough technologies that could significantly increase the charging speeds for electric vehicles. Charging an electric car at a public charging point can still take several hours — even a Tesla Supercharger station will take at least half an hour — so getting charging times down to a point where they can compete with a few minute petrol refuelling stop is crucial. 

Ulracapacitors, which discharge energy much faster than batteries, have been seen as a potential part of the solution. Tesla bought ultracapacitor company Maxwell Technologies for $218m in 2019, in hopes of improving the batteries used in its cars. Battery experts speculated that Musk might be looking to apply some of the technologies used in Maxwell’s ultracapacitors to improve the cost, performance and lifespan of its lithium-ion batteries.

Skeleton ultracapacitors

Skeleton Technologies (Estonia) 

A European challenger, Estonian Skeleton Technologies, may be close to this already. The company is developing the SuperBattery, a ground-breaking graphene battery with a 15-second charging time and the capability of being recharged hundreds of thousands of times. 

The company has just partnered with the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology to complete the development of the battery. If this is successful, it would eliminate the three main anxieties of electric car owner: slow charging time, battery degradation over time, and limited range. 

Skeleton Technologies chief executive Taavi Madiberk says the technology will “blow existing EV charging solutions out of the water”. He also notes that, unlike Tesla, which seeks to do everything itself, in Europe the key to energy storage breakthroughs will be a collaboration between companies. 

33
Join the conversation

avatar
  Subscribe  
newest oldest most voted
Notify of
Oscar
Oscar

Everything here is ‘about to be built’ or ‘ready next year’ , meanwhile I have a fantastic model S sitting in my driveway and I can drive right accross Europe with no charging issues. Most of the time an overnight charge in my normal 10 amp socket is fine. Tesla solved the main barriers to entry for the consumer some years ago. The mainstream ICE makers would still rather sell an EV as a second car and/or short trip city run about. They have meanwhile been disrupted by Tesla, as has the oil industry. Neither of those groups like it… Read more »

Martin Winlow
Martin Winlow

Quite right. This article is yet more flatulence from a legacy vehicle-making mouthpiece that has very little to do with the reality of EVs in the real world.

The simple fact is that Big Auto just wants to carry on as usual and *not* have to spend an absolute fortune re-designeing all their production facilities, re-training all their engineers, service-persons and sales-people let alone get their collective heads around the difference between a kW and a kWh!

Mimi Billing
Mimi Billing

I believe that Northvolt would disagree with you. I interviewed the CEO, Peter Carlsson, who previously worked at Tesla btw, and he was impressed with the hires that for example BMW and Volkswagen have done in that space. 🙂

HOWARD MARKS
HOWARD MARKS

Dear Mimi, You are living in a dream world of utter delusion. When BMW bought a MODEL 3 to rip apart their own engineers admitted that everything about it was beyond anything BMW is capable of doing. The “hires” in “that space” (language terminology that someone with no science and engineering uses) has nothing to do with the product or the mindset or policy of the company. The VW ID3 is not even as impressive as the latest version of the Renault Zoe and light years behind even the entry level TESLA MODEL 3. VW admitted they are clueless on… Read more »

mupp
mupp

This guy took a masters in online condescension studies,

Gordon
Gordon

In any business, you can either grow fat, rollover and die, or you grow fat, competition comes in which rocks you to the core. You either die or reinvent yourself. If this was not the case then there would only be one bank, one computer company, one car company etc. Those existing car companies have the distribution, they just needed to take the plunge and commit to change.

jean szrogh
jean szrogh

Im an European man living in Europe and can tell you no european automaker denies Tesla car and batteries are head away they can do themselves. Please do not humbug just because most Americans are not informed of of what happens in Europe.

S. Jensen
S. Jensen

This is click bait , where in this list is “faster and better” in production …its mostly European competitors trying to catch up or projects being planned.

Vincent
Vincent

I am an American who has lived in the EU for the last five years. I have nothing but love for the EU and its values and its humanity. But I will tell you that the difference between Americans and Europeans is far greater than most people know. Americans are, on the whole, far more comfortable with risk and pushing boundaries, and are prone to have an almost foolhardy belief in their own capabilities, whether warranted or not. This combination of ambition and optimism results in innovation on a level that the EU has trouble matching. In my experience, europeans… Read more »

JB Kickback
JB Kickback

Don’t speak for all Americans. You are just one guy and you do NOT speak for everyone or even have a grasp of what normal Intelectual folks feel and think. IF you had done any traveling at all you would know that WE “Humanity” are pretty much all the same
Countries and ethnicity have personality qualities that differ but for the most part, we are all pretty much the same

D.Bautista
D.Bautista

Elon Musk once said no e-vehicle maker came close to a Tesla car they made in 2012 and its now 2020, so what makes you think these EV companies can compete with Tesla who is far ahead in EV manufacturing and auto-self-driving technology? He said its easy to build a prototype but its a different ball game to mass produce it. On a final note when car consumers were asked if they would purchase an EV with all the hype but has no track record, most rather chose to stick with a Tesla brand vehicle.

Tom
Tom

Elon Musk said…? He of course will not say that there is a better electric vehicle on the market.

D.Bautista
D.Bautista

That’s the point of Elon’s statement. He opened himself to criticism with that and yet no car company could challenge his claim so far. Some independent studies made on EV comparison and published around the net showed the Tesla vehicle still has the best ratings in many aspects so far. And Elon then said in addressing his competitors, “we’re still waiting…”. So if you want to be the first to publicly debunk Elon and Tesla, be my guest.

Simon
Simon

But Tesla are still the most expensive. I’m shopping EVs at the mo. Unlikely to be buyng a Tesla. I can afford it, but there are cheaper alternatives that meet my need. FSD isnt working yet, but adds a lot of cost. They should only include the hardware on cars that spec it. I’m wxpecting to buy the ID.4 now I know it can tow 1900kgs. 95% of my annual mileage is within its battery range. With the like of Ionity, Instavolt, BPChargeMaster etc slowly getting their networks over to contactless, the future is getting better. Just need more 7kW… Read more »

Avg_jOE
Avg_jOE

Tesla price will drop with tariff when GF4 opens near Berlin. That said, it will still cost more and the car may be a bit too big for some European roads (and parking). ID3 appears solid. Tesla is about 3 years out from putting out a competing car. Musk won’t produce a car with less than 250EPA, so he has to wait for his new battery tech to mature (and Berlin to ramp) to put it out at competing pricing. I think Zoe and ID3 will be the only game in town for the compact EV. I used to drive… Read more »

JB Kickback
JB Kickback

Yea
Total electric cars have issues that take time to work out.
Software, Battery Management Systems etc.
No one comes close to Tesla right now aand I’m not throwing my money away because the upfront price is cheaper.
Not when I know I can get a dependable car that will last as long as I want it to last.
I may go ID3 in about 10 years or so when they have gone through what Tesla has since there is so much to earn about these systems

Mimi Billing
Mimi Billing

Maybe things are about to change. In August there were more Volvo’s Polestar 2 sold in Norway and Sweden than Teslas according to Forbes. Maybe not that strange for Sweden but I know for a fact that Tesla is very popular in Norway. https://www.forbes.com/sites/jimcollins/2020/09/01/volvos-polestar-2-outsold-teslas-model-3-in-sweden-and-norway-in-august/#77817fe95899

HOWARD MARKS
HOWARD MARKS

FORBES is not a credible source on EVs. Also one of the reasons why say the AUDI E-TRON only sells well in Norway and the POLESTAR 2 sells well there (a good car but way overpriced compared to a MODEL 3 with the range POLESTAR 2 has) is that Norway is the exact opposite of Germany on the issue of highway speeds. Norway has the slowest speed limits of any country. This means people are driving much more slowly thus range limited European EVs get a range boost. Plus Norway has charging stations everywhere. The same cars could not compete… Read more »

Andrew W
Andrew W

The Polestar 2 is the most credible of all competitors to Tesla but it’s heavier, 30% less efficient and more expensive than a Model 3. I prefer the styling and the controls but these are superficial compared to physics and economic reality unfortunately.

gordon
gordon

If they asked consumers in 1910 what they wanted, they would have asked for a faster horse. The EU and the UK are insisting that no diesels and petrol cars be sold in the near future. Somehow I don’t think the car companies are going to say, ok will just close up shop. There will be masses of new models., masses of new companies as well as Tesla competing for the same clients.

MarcusK
MarcusK

Great! Let’s bring these 10+ startups, have them design and make vehicles in the next 2-3 years to rival the vehicles of a company that are on the roads today. Sounds like a great vision! They have some great CGI renders and specs on the paper, but would be great to actually see one driving very soon. For instance, Porsche Taycan, a fantastic looking car with reportedly great engineering costs nearly twice as much, goes half the distance, lacks most of the tech and crucial charging infrastructure. This is coming from a phenomenal car company. So words don’t always translate… Read more »

Steve Wright
Steve Wright

Clickbait.

Hypeisgreat
Hypeisgreat

It would be rude of me not to point out that the Tesla Roadster, like the Rimac C_Two, is also not in production yet, and has an even flakier production start date. So neither is the fastest production road car.

JB Kickback
JB Kickback

You know this is an exciting time. Musk has said from the beginning its a worldwide effort to make the transition to renewables. His role is to inspire worldwide change. But just being real, everything you mentioned was future stuff. I could say I have a faster, better car that I cant mass produce –so what Every year we hear about the latest technology battery tech that will change everything. Oh yea, but they haven’t figured out how to mass-produce it. So really your article should have been about optimism and hope and not companies that ARE ACTUALLY better than… Read more »

mupp
mupp

I do like the guys on here body guarding Elon like his feelings might get hurt….

Tim Higgins
Tim Higgins

Bottom line for me is electric cars are just too damaging to the environment and are just not up to the job.

Apkungen
Apkungen

They’re all just start ups though. Tesla will make about half a million model 3s this year. Biggest compeditor right now is the Audi e-tron I’d say that most certainly has stole lots of sales from model s and x. Sure the etron is slightly cheaper and some really good deals have been possible to grab this year but the fact still stands that the etron has sold in 13 k units in Europe while s and x haven’t even reached 5 k combined. (And sure the biggest canabalization of s and x sales probably comes from Teslas model 3… Read more »

Tim Stone
Tim Stone

The european car “industry” is a conglomeration of nationalistic ideas all going their separate ways under the impression that “you vill do zat” ala 1930’s/40’s. The world has moved on and technology rules for better or worse. Instead of knocking Tesla an amount of imitation might well be in order to succeed if their ego’s will stand for it.

You cant denie this true
You cant denie this true

Man lets be real this is nothing new Rimac is the king for EV but bad new is that people dont know for them coz Americans are Americans and only what they have is publicity rest of that is 90% of bullshits

John Fong
John Fong

TSLA become dominate not because it has the best of everything. In fact, that’s not what is drive for… Costs is everything. TSLA intend is to sell affordable car with maximum functionally, not to be fastest or cheapest…

HOWARD MARKS
HOWARD MARKS

More garbage. If you want me to take your article seriously or even bother to read it then you need to learn that a FUD headline saying that EUROPE IS MAKING FASTER CARS AND BETTER BATTERIES is an instant alarm bell. TESLA and their partners are the world leaders in batteries and EVs. The German Auto industry is literally 15 years behind and that is a solid fact.

Tom
Tom

Tesla is overvalued. So it makes sense that Tesla intends to sell shares soon.

Avg_Joe
Avg_Joe

Yep. The additional $5 billion added to their $8.x billion means they can ramp new projects faster to support the value of their stock (which is very high as you stated).