It didn't come easily, but Tesla's mission to become an influential force in electric vehicle manufacturing, and the automotive industry as a whole, is beginning the bear some fruit. The Palo Alto-based company is not without its problems, but did start 2019 as the maker of the best-selling luxury vehicle in the US after recording back-to-back quarterly profits for the first time in its history, and has now claimed an unparalleled share of the EV market as it begins expansions into China and Europe. But the new year will also bring new competitors, with legacy automakers preparing to wheel out shiny new electric cars of their own. So how will they stack up?

Just like its eccentric CEO, the story of Tesla is as polarizing as it is engrossing. With a long-stated goal of using compelling electric vehicles to accelerate the world's transition to sustainable energy, the company's offerings continue to tempt more and more folks toward zero-local-emission transport.

This was led largely by Tesla's Model 3, originally billed as a vehicle for the masses with a US$35,000 sticker price, though the company has only sold more expensive versions at higher price points so far. For now, it is priced between $42,900 and $60,900, before optional extras such as Enhanced Autopilot and performance upgrades.

In spite of this, the vehicle brought in more revenue than any other US car in the final quarter of 2018 according to CleanTechnica, outstripping perennially popular cars like the Toyota Camry and the Honda Accord. It was also the best-selling premium car in the US for all of 2018 with 146,000 units sold. The Lexus RX came in a relatively distant second with 112,000 units sold.

Tesla skeptics have long held the view that the moment legacy automakers made their move into the electric car space, their brand power and resources would quickly and easily banish Tesla to the backseat, or bankruptcy. Short seller and long-time Tesla critic Citron Research said this of the Model 3 around five years ago:

"By the time this product is even approaching market, there will be multiple other 200-mile range plug-ins that have been out for years."

Former vice-chairman of General Motors Bob Lutz is another with serious doubts of Tesla's viability.

"Global competition is coming," he said in a September interview with CNBC. "This Audi e-tron is not a big surprise, we've known it was coming for the last two and a half years, Mercedes is going to have one, BMW too, Porsche is going to have a four-door sedan with a 300-mi range and GM has announced 20 different electric vehicle models. The thing about all these is they can all be sold at a loss for environmental compliance reasons and the losses can be recouped on the internal combustion ones, the ones that 95 percent of Americans still want.

"The jaws are tightening and I think in another year or two we'll see a movie called 'Who Killed Tesla,' a conspiracy movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio," Lutz went on to say.

Others dismiss the idea of a "Tesla killer" entirely, taking the view that given the company's lead in the area, no realistic competition exists and won't for quite some time. Citron Research reported that Tesla sold 54,540 Model 3s in the US in Q3 of last year, in addition to 8,000 Model S units and 7,000 of its Model X. The Toyota Prius was the next best EV with 6,268 units, with industry stayers like the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Bolt lagging well behind at around 4,000 units sold for the quarter.

It seems clear that when people in the US think electric cars, they think Tesla. But what about elsewhere? Indeed, if the company is to face competition on the global stage, that competition will come from China. To call it a sleeping giant wouldn't be accurate, as demand in the country is soaring and has been for quite some time.

Electric vehicle sales in China overtook electric vehicle sales in the US back in 2015, and haven't looked back since. According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), 1.26 million electric vehicles were sold in China in 2018 compared to just 361,307 in the US, with sales increasing by 62 percent compared to 2017.

China-based automaker BYD provided almost half of these with 520,100 sold in 2018, according to InsideEVs, though Tesla will look to make an imprint on this market when it begins producing cars at its Shanghai Gigafactory by the end of this year. It bears mentioning that electric cars account for a minuscule portion of total global car sales, still around one percent, though the WEF notes that the market has grown six-fold since 2013 and doubled since 2015.

All of this points to critical juncture in the story of Tesla, and the electric vehicle revolution as a whole. The company has spent 16 years honing its approach to electric vehicle production, but is its lead in the US now unassailable? There are all sorts of variables that will come into play, like regulations, tax incentives tariffs and the big one, potential manufacturing woes of the kind that plagued Tesla for so long.

Such forecasts are better left to Wall Street. Here we're focussing on new and upcoming electric cars with the kind of performance, range and pricing that could steal a sideways glance from the Tesla boardroom. These prices are intended as an indicator only, as they will vary between markets and may be lowered by tax incentives for electric vehicles in the US. There is also a notable omission from the list in Toyota, which although it has bold plans for the EV space, appears to be playing more of a long game. We've also thrown in Tesla's less popular but higher-end Model S and Model X for the sake of comparison.

The Yardstick: Tesla Model 3 (mid-range version, rear-wheel drive)

  • Price: $42,900
  • Range: 264 mi (425 km)
  • Availability: Now

Tesla's Model 3 isn't priced for the masses yet, though the company promises it is working on it and it will be. The car is selling in numbers unmatched for an EV, though CEO Elon Musk sees other gasoline cars as Tesla's real competitors in its mission to sway the masses away from fossil fuels.

Tesla Model X SUV

  • Price: $88,000 (base model)
  • Range: 270 mi (434 km)
  • Availability: Now

Tesla Model S

  • Price: $85,000
  • Range: 310 mi (500 km)
  • Availability: Now

Nissan Leaf e+

  • Price: Around $38,000 in Japan. Unknown for US market
  • Range: 226 mi (363 km)
  • Availability: Mid-year in the US and Europe

Nissan's Leaf is a name that's never too far from the EV discussion, but despite this has only sold around 128,000 units in the US since its introduction in 2010, a number Tesla's Model 3 topped last year alone. Nissan will be hoping that the Leaf e+, which offers around 40 percent more range than the predecessor, can start to bridge the gap.

Jaguar I-Pace SUV

  • Price: From $69,500 in the US
  • Range: 240 mi (386 km)
  • Availability: Now

Jaguar's first all-electric car, the I-Pace SUV is positioned more as an alternative to the Model X than the Model 3, but does concede a little with regard to range. It undercuts the Model X in price quite considerably, however, and may prove tempting for customers considering an upgraded Model 3.

2019 Audi e-tron SUV

  • Price: From $74,800
  • Range: 250 mi (402 km)
  • Availability: Spring 2019 (US)

Audi's first fully electric car has been a long time coming and is part of a wider push from a company that aims to launch 20 electrified models by 2025. It will complete the 0-60 mph (96.5 km/h) sprint in 5.5 seconds, not bad for an SUV but lagging well behind other luxury electric cars like the 3.1-second Model X.

Mercedes EQC

  • Price: Unknown
  • Range: 280 mi (450 km)
  • Availability: Mid-2019

This is the first production car to be built on Mercedes-Benz €10-billion EQ platform, a vehicle architecture designed to serve as the backbone of electrified Mercs in the years ahead. The 2020 EQC is powered by a 300-kW (402 hp) 4WD electric powertrain, and will complete the 0-60 mph (96.6 km/h) sprint in 4.9 seconds.

Hyundai Kona SUV (mid-range model)

  • Price: $36,450
  • Range: 258 mi (415 km)
  • Availability: Early 2019

Hyundai's electric SUV is very much priced for the masses, and is part of a wider EV assault from the South Korean automaker through its planned line of IONIQ electric vehicles. The car is styled similarly to the fossil-fuel burning Kona SUV, but with some cosmetic tweaks that include a closed grill.

Kia Niro

  • Price: Around $38,000
  • Range: 240 mi (386 km)
  • Availability: Limited, in some US states from early 2019

The first fully electric version of Kia's subcompact crossover, the Niro EV pumps out 201 horsepower and 291 lb-ft of torque. Kia plans to use this same powertrain in more of its electric cars heading into the future.

Porsche Taycan

  • Price: Reports of a $90,000 base model
  • Range: 310 mi (500 km)
  • Availability: 2020

Formerly known as the Mission E concept, Porsche's Taycan is the company's first fully electric sports car and is promising some jaw-dropping numbers. It will apparently accelerate to 100 km (62 mph) in well under 3.5 seconds, onward to 200 km/h in under 12 and reportedly cover 310 mi (500 km) on each charge.

Volvo Polestar 2

  • Price: Unknown
  • Range: Unknown
  • Availability: Unknown

Little is known about the Polestar 2 at this stage, but it will be the second for the Volvo spin off and the first to carry a fully electrified drivetrain. We do know it is being built to directly compete with Tesla's Model 3 and will therefore be priced in a similar range. The company is set to properly reveal the car on February 27, so we can expect to learn more later this month.

BMW i3

  • Price: $44,500
  • Range: up to 160 mi (257 km)
  • Availability: Now

In a similar vein to the Nissan Leaf, BMW's i3 electric sedan has been around the block, quite a few times in fact, but the company hopes a recent refresh can gain the model some new fans. The 2019 edition offers an extended range thanks to a new 120-Ah battery pack built deep into the floor. The electric motor provides 170 hp (125 kW) and shuttles the i3 to 100 km/h (62 mph) in 7.3 seconds.

Chevrolet Bolt

  • Price: $36,620
  • Range: 238 mi
  • Availability: Now

Another recognizable face in the EV game, the latest Chevy Bolt addressed a shortcoming of previous models and now offers a range comparable to the other cars listed here, at a very reasonable price. It can reach 60 mph (97 km/h) in under seven seconds and can be fast charged for a 90-mi range in half an hour.

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