German luxury carmakers have always been very competitive, especially with each other. When Audi, BMW, or Mercedes-Benz launches a new model or feature, it rarely takes long before its rivals counter the move with something similar. Yet no other carmaker, so far, has tried to create anything equivalent to the BMW i sub-brand for electric cars.
That may soon change, as Mercedes is reportedly planning an electric-only sub-brand of its own. The company already plans on launching several new electric models over the next few years, and those could be marketed under a distinct brand, according to German business publication Handelsblatt (via Autoblog).
Parent company Daimler’s board could decide on the plan as soon as next month, the report said. If the new sub-brand is approved, it could be unveiled at the 2016 Paris Motor Show this fall. Its models will likely have more in common with other Mercedes models than “i” models do with the rest of the BMW lineup.
Both the i3 electric car and i8 plug-in hybrid boast carbon fiber-reinforced plastic and aluminum construction unlike other BMW models, along with radically different styling. The first of Mercedes’ new electric cars, however, is expected to be a crossover that will share its largely steel platform with the current GLC-Class.
Rumored to be called “ELC,” the crossover might share a roof and windows with the GLC, but use different body panels to distinguish it visually from models with engines.
The ELC may be previewed by a concept at the Paris show, and it will be followed by another electric crossover, as well as two sedans.
BMW builds its “i” models in a separate factory, something Mercedes reportedly doesn’t plan to do with its upcoming electric cars.
Further down the line, though, Mercedes electric models could diverge somewhat more from the rest of the carmaker’s lineup. At a recent technology event, Mercedes unveiled a “multi-model vehicle architecture” for electric cars.
The company did not divulge a production timeline for the new platform, but noted that its modular design can accommodate multiple models. Mercedes also hopes to develop batteries that offer twice the range of today’s lithium-ion cells at half the cost. These cells — which would likely be manufactured by Daimler subsidiary Deutsche Accumotive — could use a different chemistry from current lithium-ion cells.
The only battery-electric car on sale under the Mercedes-Benz name today is the B250e (nee B-Class Electric Drive), which is only sold in a handful of U.S. states.
Daimler also sells the Smart ForTwo Electric Drive, a redesigned version of which will appear at the Paris Motor Show.