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Fully charged: Luxury automakers go boldly into the future with new electric vehicles

Fully charged: Luxury automakers go boldly into the future with new electric vehicles
BMW's iX3 concept would benefit from fast-charging plug-in technology (BMW)

Once associated with nerd-chic early-adopters and proactive conservationists, electric vehicles are now commanding serious attention from even the wealthiest of mainstream drivers. With Tesla's all-electric Model S - which has been dominating U.S. large luxury car sales and attracted celebrity owners and Hollywood stars - paving the way, EVs have swiftly become fuel-free status symbols.

In response, luxury automakers have worked hard on marrying forward-thinking zero-emission electric drivetrains to their time-honored standards of comfort, performance and style. We're now seeing the fruits of these efforts, with an array of high-end electric production cars imminent from both long-established luxury brands and ambitious startups.

Porsche purists have taken a pummeling of late, with the once sports-car-synonymous marque's detours into first SUVs (beginning with the Cayenne in 2002), and then four-door sedans (the Panamera, released in 2009). Yet both were runaway hits, so huge anticipation surrounds Porsche's all-electric, sporty Taycan four-door, which is scheduled to begin production as a 2020 year model -- and deposits are already being accepted.

Expected to start in the $75,000 range, this svelte stunner promises 0-60 mph in just 3.5 seconds (in its Mission E concept form) and also promises swift charging times that could sway EV fence-sitters, with a driving range of around 250 miles from just a 20-minute charge. There's already talk of the Taycan spawning an emissions-free family of platform-sharing derivatives, starting with the rugged yet refined, shooting brake-style Mission E Cross Turismo CUV.

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Also sharing the Taycan's J1 platform will be Audi's gasp-inducing e-tron GT four-door coupe, which wowed crowds in its concept form at the 2018 LA Auto Show. Audi Sport's first EV, the all-wheel-drive GT is due to begin volume production in late 2020, preceded by the company's all-electric e-tron mid-sized SUV.

BMW in Norway is already taking orders for its electric iX3 Sports Activity Vehicle, with production in this country scheduled for 2020. The iX3 enjoys the refinements of BMW's fifth-generation eDrive technology, with high-capacity batteries enabling a potential range of near 250 miles, plus a user-friendly sub-30-minute charging time.

Completing the quartet of German luxury automakers riding the EV tide, Mercedes-Benz unveiled its EQ electromobility sub-brand as far back as 2016. By the middle of next year, this should make the leap from concept to production with the EQC SUV. Unveiled in September, the EQC utilizes compact electric drivetrains at each axle to create the driving characteristics of all-wheel drive. And this is just the start of the brand's electric surge, with 10 EQ models planned by 2022.

Jaguar continues its recent run of innovative vehicles with the all-electric I-PACE SUV. It may be more purr than roar, yet the I-PACE is every bit a Jag, with thrilling performance (394 horsepower; 0-60 mph in 4.5 seconds), sharp design inside and out and an elegant, spacious cabin. The I-PACE makes its California debut this month at the Jaguar Electrifies Experience at Santa Monica Airport (reservations can be made at bit.ly/JaguarElectrifiesLA-fb). Fellow Brits Bentley are also rumored to be working on an EV, targeted for 2025, based on Audi-Porsche architecture.

As traditional luxury automakers embracing electromobility, a number of specialist EV start-ups are also shaping the segment. Michigan-based Rivian and China's Byton each debuted a pair of headline-grabbing models a piece at the LA Auto Show last month.

While EVs may still be largely associated with localized urban driving, Rivian's all-electric R1T pickup truck is a reminder that electric propulsion also increasingly has a place in the great outdoors, with its single-charge range of 400 miles and an 11,000-pound towing capacity. Meanwhile, the company's versatile, Land Rover-ish R1S is a similarly capable three-row SUV with hidden ambient lighting and stain-repelling seat fabric.

Founded by former BMW and Nissan executives, the first offerings from Future Mobility Corporation's all-electric Byton marque are the tech-packed M-Byte SIV, or "Smart Intuitive Vehicle," due stateside in 2020, followed by the futuristic K-Byte sedan, boasting Level 4 autonomy features (read: full self-driving) a year later.

California-based Lucid already boasts some 300 employees and a $700 million manufacturing facility in Arizona. Its 1,000-horsepower, 235-mph Lucid Air luxury all-electric sedan first turned heads at the LA Auto Show in 2017, after being teased as a camouflaged prototype the previous year. Initial deliveries are expected in 2019.

This summer, Gyon -- another Chinese luxury EV startup -- launched its coupe-like sedan at an event in L.A. The claimed 435-mile range and 15-minute charge time are impressive, but Gyon didn't actually have a car to show. A concept is promised next year, with plans for nine models over the next eight years and projected annual sales of 400,000 vehicles.

- Paul Rogers, Custom Publishing Writer