FRANKFURT--Porsche, the German sports car maker, Monday unveiled a prototype battery-driven sports car with which it aims to challenge Tesla Motors Inc., the upstart maker of high-end electric cars whose success has shaken more established car makers.
The new road-hugging design, dubbed "Mission E," is unmistakable as an offspring of Porsche's iconic 911 but carries an 800-volt electric powertrain with 600 horsepower that can accelerate to 100 kilometers per hour in 3.5 seconds.
"When we designed this car, we knew it had to be a real Porsche," Chief Executive Matthias Müller said in an interview on the eve of the Frankfurt Motor Show. "It had to feel like a 911."
Porsche, which is owned by Volkswagen AG, calls Mission E the first four-door battery-driven sports car that is fit for everyday use. The prototype can travel 500 kilometers on a full charge. It can be recharged to 80% in about 15 minutes, Mr. Müller said.
A final decision whether to build the car is expected at the end of the year. If all goes according to plan, Porsche's electric sports car could hit the streets in 2019.
Porsche rolled out the Mission E at a Volkswagen presentation on the eve of Germany's prestigious biennial car show in Frankfurt. Mr. Müller and his colleagues at Porsche spent months developing the first prototype.
Porsche watched closely as BMW AG, the Munich-based premium car maker, launched the i3 battery-driven compact car and the i8 plug-in hybrid sports car. Both cars received numerous accolades for their innovative design, but have sold far fewer vehicles than expected. BMW's experience reinforced Mr. Müller's cautious approach to electric cars.
"We have mastered the technology," he said. "But there is no point coming out too soon if the market isn't there yet."
But now Porsche has realized there is also a danger of waiting too long.
Tesla proved with its Model S that there is a niche market for battery-driven luxury vehicles, even if global demand for electric vehicles has trailed the hype. As recently as March, Mr. Müller appeared reluctant to move forward with the project. But Tesla's continued success and regulatory pressure to cut carbon dioxide emissions forced the company to enter the field.
"We have great respect for Tesla," Mr. Müller said. "They are the only one who have brought an electric vehicle on the market that you have to take seriously."
Tesla wasn't immediately available for comment.
Luxury car maker Audi, Porsche's sibling in the stall of VW brands, is unveiling at Frankfurt a concept for a battery-driven midsize sport-utility vehicle--dubbed the e-tron Quattro. Expected to be launched in 2018 as the Audi Q6, the car is challenging Tesla's Model X, which launches in the U.S. later in September.
Over the next few years, the Volkswagen group plans to launch at least 20 battery-driven and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, Volkswagen Chief Executive Martin Winterkorn said at the Frankfurt presentation.
"No commitment to electro-mobility can be any clearer than that," Mr. Winterkorn said. He urged the German government to introduce incentives to encourage people to buy electric cars, which tend to be more expensive than conventional autos.
Porsche faces another challenge as it moves into electric vehicles. The company has set itself apart from the competition through stunning engine design and engineering. Electric powertrains are far less complex than a combustion engine, making electric "engines" easier to copy and harder to differentiate.
"This is the question for us: how can we develop an electric vehicle that is different from the competition and adds real value?" said Mr. Müller. Porsche's challenge is to make an electric engine with the raw power of a gasoline-powered Porsche sports car.
them seats do not look compfy.