At the Paris auto show earlier this year, Mercedes announced the creation of its new EQ sub-brand for electric cars with a prototype of a 400 horsepower battery electric SUV. At the time, the company said the four pillars of its EQ division would be connected, autonomous, shared, and electric. This week, Thomas Weber, head of research and development for Daimler, announced the automotive group will invest up to $11 billion in electric vehicles. “By 2025 we want to develop 10 electric cars based on the same architecture. For this push we want to invest up to 10 billion euros.”
Matthias Lührs, vice president of sales and product management for Mercedes, says his company will introduce a plug-in hybrid version of every single vehicle in the Mercedes-Benz model range by 2020. “From next year onward, we’ll have 10 vehicles as such—the broadest model range of plug-in hybrids in the luxury market,” he said. “And we see huge customer demand in that respect.”
That may be so, but EV sales in many important markets — especially the US — are struggling to capture 1% of the new car market. Lührs believes the keys to success when it comes to selling electric cars are customer demand, infrastructure, and regulations. Mercedes, BMW, Volkswagen, Porsche, Audi, and Ford of Europe are joining forces to address the infrastructure component. Last week they announced a joint undertaking to build a network of high power chargers for electric cars throughout Europe. The system will be based on the CCS charging standard and may feature chargers with up to 150 kW of power. The CCS consortium, which Tesla is a member of, says chargers with power up to 350 kW are possible in the future.
Regulation is something car makers have less direct control over. Emissions rules in Europe are far tougher than in the US and set to ratchet up significantly in the near future. In the US, manufacturers are pressuring the incoming Trump administration to weaken fuel economy rules, but that will have no impact on EU regulators. Rules in China and other countries are also set to get tougher soon. The question no one can answer is, what would happen to demand for electric cars if all those environmental rules were revoked? Would the allure of self driving, connected cars be enough to keep the electric car revolution moving forward?
The latest buzzword in the auto industry is “ecosystem.” No, that has nothing to do with the melting of the polar ice caps or the bleaching of The Great Barrier Reef. It refers to an automotive environment in which the car is seamless connected to the owner, the internet, and digital world. It is now expected that everything will work in harmony — hardware and software, car and smartphone, driving and being driven, owning and sharing. “Connected vehicles, autonomous vehicles, shared services, we call it an ecosystem . . . we see interdependencies,” says Lührs.
“Imagine one day — let’s say, at the latest, in 2025 — there might be a new EQ S-class coming around the corner, and you’re calling it through your EQ app. The car will be picking you up, driving autonomously in the garage, and then picking up the next person. We’re talking about car sharing here — fewer cars on the road, a very friendly ecosystem, and very convenient. You don’t have to call Uber. You call your EQ.”
Tesla has disrupted the automotive world with its innovative electric car strategy, but Mercedes and most other manufacturers are spending as much time chasing Uber as they are Tesla. Everybody in the industry seems convinced we are all perishing to be part of futuristic car pools, where we share our automobiles with each other. The connected, self driving car will be an alternative to traditional public transportation. Instead of jamming ourselves into crowded subway trains twice a day, we will ride along in connected bliss with three or four other sweaty strangers with bad breath.
In the bright, glorious day to come, white supremacists will happily buddy up with Muslims and gays because the cars will be so cool, no one will be able to resist their charms. If that is what Mercedes and other companies are expecting, they may want to take a look at the most recent presidential election in the United States to see how bitterly divided by class, race, and religion the Cradle of Liberty is today. It is unlikely the “cool” factor will have much success breaking down those barriers.
None of that deters Mercedes. It plans to use its Car2Go car sharing service to learn what customers like and don’t like in their cars. That feedback will be incorporated into designing future models. “With the Car2Go brand, we have a very good field where we can test and see what customers are preferring, and then hopefully build on that, and that is part of the whole ecosystem of EQ,” Lührs says.
In all, Mercedes expects to roll out one new electric car every year, starting with the crossover SUV prototype on display in Paris. That car should be in showrooms in 2019, which means the transformation of Mercedes to an all electric car company should be complete by the end of the next decade. It is perhaps no coincidence that 2030 is a date being suggested by several European countries as the date when they intend to ban the sale of cars with combustion engines.
Source: Car and Driver