Mercedes’ ‘Tesla killer’ electric SUV coming in 2019, expected price HK$426,000

German carmaker unveils a prototype of SUV, first of its new EQ brand, at Paris Motor Show and says it plans 10-model ‘electric product offensive’ covering all market segments, from compact to luxury; may build China battery plant

PUBLISHED : Friday, 30 September, 2016, 10:23am
UPDATED : Friday, 30 September, 2016, 10:23am

Mercedes-Benz plans to introduce at least 10 battery-powered cars in the coming years and will bundle its electric-vehicle technology, including charging boxes and energy storage, under its new EQ brand to take on Tesla Motors.

Mercedes’ first new all-electric model will be a coupe-like sport utility vehicle that will be available for sale before the end of the decade – it’s expected in 2019 – and will cost about as much as the 49,000 (HK$425,900) GLC coupe. A prototype, which is close to the production version of the sporty SUV, was unveiled at the Paris Motor Show and can drive 500 kilometres on a single charge, compared with as far as 542 kilometres for the Tesla Model X.

“We’re now flipping the switch,” Daimler chief executive Dieter Zetsche says. “We’re ready for the launch of an electric product offensive that will cover all vehicle segments, from the compact to the luxury class.”

Under the strategy, which is backed by plans to invest 1 billion in battery technology, electric cars would account for as much as 25 per cent of Mercedes deliveries by 2025. The aggressive push marks a departure from Mercedes’ previous approach of offering electric offshoots of existing models, such as with the van-like B-Class. Stand-alone models and a separate nameplate will give Mercedes’ electric vehicles more visibility to better compete with Tesla, in which Mercedes parent Daimler was an early investor.

The turnabout is part of a broader industry shift toward more appealing electric cars as manufacturers scramble to meet ever-tighter emissions standards. The European Union is seeking efficiency improvements in the next five years that would effectively be double the gains made since 2010. Volkswagen, seeking to recover from the emissions scandal, plans to roll out 30 battery-powered vehicles by 2025 and targets sales of as many as 3 million electric cars a year.

Daimler would consider building battery plants in China and the US, which would “be in line with our strategy of having a production network” across the globe, Thomas Weber, the carmaker’s head of development, says.

EQ, which stands for “electric intelligence”, will offer an array of products and services, including energy storage for homes and charging services, Mercedes says. The move will put pressure on luxury-car rivals BMW and Audi to respond. Most of BMW’s senior executives are skipping the Paris car show to deliberate on their own electric-car initiatives, while Volkswagen, Audi’s parent, unveiled the battery-powered I.D. concept car in Paris.

Manufacturers need to start offering products that meet consumers’ requirements
Stefan Bratzel

To be sure, the speed at which consumers are switching to electric cars is expected to remain tepid at best. Forecaster IHS Markit expects battery-powered vehicles to account for about 3 per cent of global car demand in 2025, compared with less than 1 per cent this year.

“Manufacturers need to start offering products that meet consumers’ requirements,” says Stefan Bratzel, director of the Center of Automotive Management at the University of Applied Sciences in Bergisch Gladbach, Germany. “It’s clear what sort of driving ranges buyers expect, it’s also clear we need a fast charging network. Prices for these vehicles cannot be significantly higher than for those with combustion engines.”