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Porsche executive talks about keeping up with Tesla

  • Porsche is fighting for a place alongside Tesla in the electric auto industry.
  • Porsche North America CEO Klaus Zellmer admitted Porsche sometimes loses customers to Tesla.

When it comes to high-end electric vehicles, one brand comes to mind: Tesla. But Porsche is fighting for a foothold in the electric auto market, even though, as Porsche North America CEO Klaus Zellmer says, the legacy brand sometimes loses customers to the California disrupter.

"We have lots of respect for Tesla – and, yes, I'm sure there are some Porsche customers, that in terms of connectivity, digital stuff in the car and electric battery in the vehicles, didn't find the car that they wanted with Porsche so they bought somewhere else," Zellmer said on CNBC's "Closing Bell."

Porsche will debut several new vehicles Friday at the Los Angeles Auto Show. But the German automaker's most exciting vehicle won't even be there. Touted as a major competitor to the Tesla Model S since it was teased as a concept vehicle in 2015, the Porsche Mission E will debut in 2019, the Verge reported.

Porsche has already made a foray into hybrid vehicles with the Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid Sport Turismo , which similarly isn't yet available in the U.S. But the Mission E marks the brand's first attempt at an all-electric vehicle.

The Mission E will, according to The Verge, have comparable charge time, speed and cost to the Tesla Model S. But it will cost less than Porsche's hybrid vehicle – and drive a bit more slowly, too. The Mission E will allegedly have certain autonomous features and may be sold at different price brackets.

If it sounds like Porsche is taking a few pages from Tesla's book, it may be. Zellmer said California and the companies there have served as major inspiration for the company.

"Porsche and California has always been a love affair," Zellmer said. "California is also the origin of lots of disruptions – when we talk about e-mobility, when we talk about companies like, Google and Apple and Facebook – it's also a country where people look for an edge."