In the electric vehicle race, Mercedes-Benz didn’t sit on the sidelines but rather played its B-team in less-heard-of leagues. As BMW and the Volkswagen Group marketed plug-in models to increasingly wide audiences across the U.S., Mercedes stuck with compliance cars limited to sales in California and the other participating ZEV states. So far, the strategy hardly dinged the German luxury brand.
Now it’s time to play ball. At the 2016 Paris Auto Show, Mercedes-Benz unveiled the first vehicle, an all-electric SUV concept, in its new sub-brand known as EQ. Dubbed Generation EQ, the electric utility model delivers the power (400 horsepower) and range (310 miles) the industry has come to expect from a Tesla. But Mercedes’s overall commitment to automation, electric motors, batteries, connectivity, and even car-sharing represents a broader shift toward Silicon Valley.
Not that Mercedes was not a leader in autonomy or connectivity already. Indeed, S-Class and E-Class tech established the brand as a major player in the future of driving. However, the shift toward electric-drive focus and production of components signals the automaker going full Tesla with its latest release. According to Dr. Dieter Zetsche, CEO of Daimler and head of Mercedes‑Benz, the EQ brand “goes far beyond electric vehicles. EQ stands for a comprehensive electric ecosystem of services, technologies and innovations.”
Generation EQ is the first of 10 planned Mercedes EVs that will arrive by 2025, according to the automaker. What Generation EQ offers in SUV form can translate to a coupe, sedan, and wagon via its versatile architecture. Yet there is no reason to expect one of these cars in a Benz dealership anytime soon.
These plans, like those of several other automakers in the space, will take form by the end of this decade. Mercedes hopes to be far more self-sufficient in battery production by then. The automaker said it is investing “one billion euros in the expansion of its global battery production network, with no less than 500 million euros flowing into the construction of a second battery factory at the site in Kamenz, Saxony.”
Of course, the ecosystem is only part of the package. Few consumers know the ins and outs of the Gigafactory or how a Tesla Powerwall does its job. Yet they all know Model S drives awfully fast and can even become ludicrous. No one has ever said these things about a Mercedes EV, and has never had a reason to do so. With B-Class Electric Drive and the brand’s plug-in hybrid sedans selling in negligible numbers here, Generation EQ has some convincing to do.
Hitting 60 miles per hour in five seconds would be a start. Yet seeing a production model must come first. Mercedes has never built an EV from the ground up, so in that respect it is behind BMW, Chevrolet, and Nissan. Consumers expecting the “best or nothing” treatment already have an idea what that is: a Tesla. For now, Mercedes has a cool concept at a European auto show. The automaker acknowledges the time has come to go electric. Whether it can catch up fast remains to be seen.