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Merc's electric car plan will 'transform' the whole company

Ten electric cars promised by 2025, kicking off with GLC-sized SUV in 2018

The Mercedes Generation EQ concept revealed at the Paris motor show is a close-to-production look at a mid-sized electric SUV coming in 2019. That’s the nutshell-sized analysis of Mercedes’ chief electric vehicle engineer, Jürgen Shenk. It’s also the acorn from which a mighty oak of electric cars will spring. Hold on tight – Mercedes isn’t so much making a splash with EVs than setting off a tidal wave.

By 2025, Schenk promises there will be ten all-new bespoke Mercedes EVs. That’s thanks to the scalable, modular platform of the EQ, which allows cells to be arranged in a steel platform with carbon and aluminium elements, in columns of three and rows, four, five or six deep, Mercedes can adapt the amount of power storage, wheelbase and driven wheels for a particular type of vehicle. 

He reminds us, for instance, that the SLS Electric Drive supercar had four motors, for maximum torque-vectoring and acceleration, but that could just as easily be used to make a 4x4 crossover. “It fulfills our requirements from small EVs right up to the biggest one. We can define an architecture which supports anything from a B-Class sized car to an S-Class sized car.” Why nothing smaller than that? Because Smart now has an all-electric range to cover off the teeny city car market.

“It was an easy decision to launch with an SUV”, Schenk explains. “It is the car our customers want, the sales show this”. The production-spec EQ will be priced between a mid-spec and fully loaded GLC, between £45,000 – £55,000. And at that money, no-one wants range anxiety nagging away…

“Range is the biggest concern for the customer. We have to give them at least 500km. But now we can do this with a battery that, in 2009, would give you only 250km. And if you compare the range we will get from this battery in 2019 to a car we will launch in 2025, we will double the range over again. We could have a range of 1000km, but then there is the cost to balance. Eventually, the customer will choose their EV just like they choose a car now – picking the best balance of performance and cost for their needs.”

Schenk says Mercedes will use exactly the same production techniques for the EQ cars as its conventional engined cars, and the same factory design, which saves heaps of money. He admits the ‘marriage’ between powertrain and bodyshell in the factory takes a little longer than a normal car, but the production facilities are well set up to cope with the ramp up in activity. There are three tipping points, we’re told: the moment one per cent of Mercedes sales are plug-in cars (due in February 2017, currently it’s 0.6%), then 50 per cent and 100 per cent tipping points.

It’s time to talk about Tesla. Daimler, Mercedes’ parent company, maintains a financial interest in Tesla (the Model S still borrows Mercedes switchgear, for instance), and the B-Class Electric Drive “which is still in production”, Schenk reminds us, uses Tesla batteries and motors. Will Daimler maintain that relationship while effectively building a rival to Elon’s Ludicrous brainchild?

“I wouldn’t close down [that relationship],” is Shenk’s response, “but EQ is our plan for the future and it will be completed without Tesla. Our plan is not just to build a new car platform, but also to completely transform the Mercedes company. And at the end of the transformation, we will be a company that builds EVs in the same manner as we used to build fuel-burning cars.”

So, that’s chapter and verse on Mercedes’ electric-powered future. It’s going to be a big decade for the battery-juiced Mercedes.

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