Size, height, popularity… R&D boss Ola Kallenius walks us through the thinking behind an SUV-first strategy.
“Shame it’s an SUV,” wrote one of our Instagram followers on Tuesday, following the global unveiling of the all-electric Mercedes-Benz EQC in Sweden.
There was a time, early in this modern era of electric vehicles, when car enthusiasts couldn’t possibly get on board with the thought of owning an EV.
They didn’t go far enough, you couldn’t have found a public charging point if your life depended on it, they were too small to pass as a family car; and for all these reasons, they were prohibitively expensive.
On the whole, early examples were quirky, ugly, or both. The i-MiEV, the Leaf, even the ill-fated, conspiracy-laden GM EV1 – landmark cars in the timeline of our reawakened interest in electric mobility, but not exactly a watershed moment. (As much as the EV1 could have been.)
Then Tesla came along with the Roadster. Still impractical, but now a little less prohibitively expensive, because it looked like a proper, premium sports car and it was bloody quick. The perfect recipe for turning regular (and cashed up) enthusiasts into early adopters.
The Model S followed, allowing for a third dynamic: the cashed-up early adopter with practicality on the mind and an eye for a developing trend. Here was a liftback sedan with acres of space, obvious premium looks, advanced technology, revolutionary ideas around car ownership… and we were off.
When the Model S launched in 2012, signalling to many the start of a new era, another shift in the car industry was already well underway: SUVs had become a compelling replacement for the conventional family sedan and wagon (thanks partly to lower import tariffs), and brands were wasting no time in satisfying the demand.
Now, SUVs own the market, and now is when traditional brands are ready to throw their hats in the EV ring.
Indeed, if Tesla wasn’t busy establishing its premium credentials in 2012, it might’ve sensibly launched the Model X before the sleek and aspirational Model S. If it had entered the market as a new brand today, it probably would have done just that.
So, of course, the already well-established premium brands are driven to achieve as much volume as possible from their initial EV sales, balanced against the highest possible margins.
Thus, we have not an electric XF, but rather the Jaguar i-Pace. There’s no all-electric A6 sedan or wagon yet, but you’ll see the Audi e-tron real soon. BMW tinkered a little disastrously with the i3, but it’s the upcoming iX3 that will truly get it in the game.
And while we might not see an EQ E-Class until 2022 or beyond, the EQC has now been revealed and it’ll be in showrooms next year.
“We said that when we start with the first member in the EQ Family, we want something in one of our core segments, where we believe that we can get a large following, a customer base,” says Mercedes-Benz development boss, Ola Kallenius, talking to Australian media in Sweden this week.
“So that was a very natural entry point for us.”
Kallenius adds that GLC production capacity has been increased two or three times since launching in 2015, “because the demand has been overwhelming”.
With evidence like that, it doesn’t take long to figure out which segment is going to offer the greatest chance of success when ushering in a new era for your brand.
The SUV shape also gave the brand a headstart, Kallenius claims, and it’s likely the other new rivals to Tesla – all late to the game – have taken the same view.
“In a high platform, because you have the battery size, that gives you an advantage, there’s no doubt about it,” he says.
Shame it’s an SUV, enthusiasts may lament, but the torment should be short-lived: “In the development of the EQ family, we have sedans in development as well,” Kallenius says.
Who knows how long they’ll stay in the range…
Timing and specifications for Australian buyers are still to be confirmed.
Mercedes-Benz Australia communications manager Jerry Stamoulis tells us that, like most of its models, a local launch should follow the mid-2019 European launch fairly quickly. We’d expect to see the EQC here before the end of the year.
As for pricing, a starting point between $100,000 to $150,000 is expected. By comparison, the turbo V8-powered AMG GLC63 goes for around $165,000 new, while the larger GLE63 drops at just shy of $190,000.
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