Are the Cadillac ELR and Tesla Model S Playing in the Same League?

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Cadillac’s (NYSE:GM) ELR extended-range plug-in hybrid and Tesla’s (NASDAQ:TSLA) Model S all-electric sedan are perhaps two of the most talked-about alternative fuel-powered luxury cars, though perhaps for different reasons. Differences aside, they represent a fairly substantial undertow in the tide of luxury automobiles. The commitments to these vehicles by their respective manufacturers indicate that not only are green cars becoming more accepted, but that the demographics of people interested in them are changing.

However, the industry that the ELR and Model S play in is still quite young. Because of this, there is no true “competition” for these vehicles; the Model S is often compared to Audi’s A7, BMW’s 5 or 7 Series, or Mercedes-Benz’s CLS or E class. The ELR, meanwhile, is sort of in a league of its own. As the first plug-in hybrid luxury coupe on the market, there isn’t a whole lot out there that it can be compared to on a performance level.

Here’s a closer look at both Tesla’s Model S sedan and the Cadillac ELR coupe, which in many ways are playing on the same field but also show stark differences. But can the two be crossed-shopped by affluent green-geared buyers?

Our knee-jerk reaction would be to say no: the duo isn’t compatible enough and the circles they live in don’t intersect enough. The Tesla is a four-door sedan that if properly optioned can seat seven occupants; the ELR is a 2+2 format, but if talking about full-size adults, that could be a generous assertion.

Tesla Model S, photographed in Switzerland by James Lipman // jameslipman.com

On the inside, both cars are endowed with refined, gorgeous interiors. Tesla’s is notable for its use of a massive 17-inch touchscreen that, although one might find cumbersome, has been hailed as being more intuitive than expected by critics. The ELR shows just how much the brand has upped its game. Michael Harley over at Autoblog, who recently drove the ELR, “would argue that the ELR’s cockpit is Cadillac’s most luxurious to date.”

Both cars are lookers on the outside, as well. Few and far between are the people who have derided the Tesla as being ugly. The Cadillac, too, is simple yet striking. Its exterior appearance is premium and conveys prestige, but without being too ostentatious.

So both cars look and feel good, but the Tesla is substantially more practical than the ELR — which it is supposed to be, since it’s a sedan and the ELR is a coupe. But how do they stack up on a performance basis? As it turns out, they don’t, really.

In its base form, with the 60 kWh battery pack, the Tesla produces 302 horsepower, which although it isn’t mind-blowing, is an adequate amount to move its 4,600-pound bulk where it needs to go. The ELR, on the other hand, produces just 207 horsepower, a rather anemic figure for the conventional expectations for a luxury coupe.

That’s an improvement over the 149 horsepower from the Chevy Volt (on which the ELR is based), but perhaps not enough to warrant the steep $75,000 price tag. In fact, it’s really the price tag alone where the Tesla and the ELR are most comparable. The Tesla starts at around $70,000; both cars are eligible for the $7,500 federal tax credit.

Lastly, range — the Achilles’ heel of electric cars and perhaps the largest barrier to more widespread adoption. Not surprisingly, the ELR’s onboard internal combustion engine — which does not power the wheels directly — gives the Cadillac the advantage in this measure, with full a range of about 345 miles. That’s enough to outdo the Tesla’s 300-mile maximum in its highest trim, albeit not by a whole lot.

Looking at the cars brings a wholly expected and resoundingly predictable conclusion. Though the vehicles have their similarities, they are ultimately operating on different corners of the green luxury field. The Tesla is a sound alternative to high-performance German sedans that have historically thrashed America’s luxury offerings. Its mission is to provide comparable performance to an internal combustion engine in the guise of an electric car.

The ELR, though, is an unapologetic “green” car, aimed at those who are looking for all the creature comforts a luxury car provides but really don’t need the growling V8 or mountain of instantaneous torque that the Model S provides. The public has developed this conception that luxury cars have to outperform in every way, and the ELR is fighting that conception.

It will certainly be interesting to see what happens down the road as each company expands their slate of offerings in this developing market.

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