FRANKFURT—It’s great to be a leader, but that’s when you get a big, shiny target painted on your back. Witness Tesla Motors, which still isn’t making money, but continues to enjoy a halo from Consumer Reports raves and a stellar stock price.

Tesla Model SA Model S outside the Frankfurt Motor Show. They were inside, too. (Photo: Jim Motavalli)

Co-founder Elon Musk is like Pablo Picasso, who once observed that he could doodle on a napkin and sell the result for thousands (that was then; now it would be millions). Musk could make some innocuous remark about a new performance milestone for the Model X (debuting later this month) and the stock market would swoon.

But some Tesla watchers are doing more than watching — they’re getting into the game with high-performance electric cars of their own. I’m at the Frankfurt Motor Show, where Audi showed its e-tron quattro concept, a high-end SUV that hits the market in 2018 and directly takes on the Model X with more than 300 miles of range.

audi e-tron conceptThe cameras came out for the Audi e-tron quattro, with more than 300-mile range and the Tesla Model X in its sights. (Photo: Jim Motavalli)

Stablemate Porsche showed the Mission E, a four-door, 600-horsepower EV with similar range. The electric Porsche, also targeting 2018 for performance, might as well be called the Mission Tesla.

It was always a matter of time before mainstream automakers took up the Tesla challenge. I’m actually surprised it’s taken this long. But remember when Toyota introduced the Prius on the American market in 2000? It was four years before any American company offered a response (the Ford Escape Hybrid in 2004).

Porsche Mission EThe Porsche Mission E: The German automaker's first foray into battery electrics will offer 600 horsepower. (Photo: Jim Motavalli)

As I’ve written, a host of startup companies — Renovo (with a fast electric clone of the Cobra Daytona), Rimac (with a Croatian-built high-speed electric GT) and Toroidion (with the 1MW, a Finnish supercar) — are clearly targeting Tesla. And Lumen Motors wants to build a $175,000 electric supercar in Texas — as soon as its executives finish their undergraduate degrees.

But the startup Tesla should really be worried about is Faraday Future, based just down the road in Gardena, California. They’re impressive for what they don’t say, namely any boasting about the cool car they’re going to produce.

Faraday FutureThis is about all we know about the Faraday. (Photo: Jim Motavalli)

Faraday Future sports a Tesla-evoking name (Michael Faraday is the father of the electromagnetic motor) that may prove to be a placeholder. It has both the technical talent — including several former executives from Tesla (and Space X), BMW’s electric i division, and the Chevy Volt team — and the money to be a serious competitor. The company says it will have thousands of employees. This summer it began looking for a factory, with candidate locations in Nevada (where Tesla’s Gigafactory will be), Georgia and Louisiana.

One-upsmanship is evident: Faraday says its battery pack will offer 15 percent more energy than Tesla’s 85-kilowatt-hour pack, meaning around 98 kilowatt hours.

Faraday (aka FF) says it will launch in 2017, and describes its offerings as “100 percent electric, zero-emission, fully-connected and personalized in ways you’ve never even considered possible.” Faradays will have four wheels, but otherwise will be like nothing we’ve ever seen, the company said.

Thunder PowerGiants walk the earth. This is the Thunder Power car on its stand in Frankfurt. The battery pack is bigger than Tesla's (Photo: Jim Motavalli)

Oh, and here in Frankfurt I ran into the Thunder Power, a Tesla killer from, of all places, China. Though the car on display was little more than a primitive prototype, the company claims it will be on the road in Europe in 2017.

How about these specs? The Thunder Power will offer a 125-kilowatt-hour battery, more than 400 miles of range, zero to 62 in under five seconds and a top speed of 130 mph.

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Elon Musk would be blushing now — but somehow I can’t imagine him doing it.

Jim Motavalli ( @jmotavalli ) writes about cars, technology and the environmental world to anyone curious enough to ask.

Everyone is going after Tesla now
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Elon Musk is likely blushing.