Five ways Mercedes is gunning for Tesla
‘If one thing about the future is clear it’s that e-mobility will prevail on a grand scale’ – as director of e-drive system integration at Mercedes, this is the kind of thing you’d expect Jürgen Schenk to say. But Mercedes is putting its money where Schenk’s mouth is – parent company Daimler has announced that more than half the €14.5bn it is about to spend on research and development is earmarked for green technologies, and of that €5.4bn is going specifically on cars. The endgame? A bespoke all-electric car platform to take on Tesla, not to mention 2018’s Audi Q6 e-tron. The objective? Six-figure electric mobility sales across the Daimler portfolio by 2020.
New EV architecture
Mercedes’ new Electric Vehicle Architecture (EVA) won’t quite arrive in time to tackle the Audi head on, but ‘the first model is to be launched onto the market before the end of the decade’. A design preview will be shown at the 2016 Paris show in September, though according to our sources Mercedes is planning four variants: two crossovers and two saloons. The saloons will slot between the C-Class and E-Class and the E-Class and S-Class, with SUVs between the GLC and GLE and the GLE and GLS. We understand that they’ll be built at Mercedes’ Bremen plant, rather than a dedicated facility. Batteries will be produced in-house by wholly-owned Daimler subsidiary Deutsche ACCUmotive (itself about to receive a €500m investment and second factory), and like Tesla, incorporated beneath a flat cabin floor.
Officially, the first production EVA will have a 500km range, though unofficially an impressive 645km per charge is planned – Mercedes anticipates a 30 per cent increase in lithium-ion capability by 2020. Base versions may be rear-wheel drive only, but EVA can accommodate an electric motor at either end to deliver all-wheel drive. The motors will be a product of Daimler’s joint venture with Bosch and EM-motive, with output expected to start at 160kW and rise to 440kW for high performance AMG-badged variants. With ground clearance down to 115mm and adaptive air suspension as standard, EVA’s centre of gravity will be super-low and handling suitably keen – helped by clever torque vectoring electronics and a rear-wheel-steer system.
Mercedes is hinting that its recent F125, F015 and IAA concepts point the way towards a radically streamlined future, perhaps incorporating active aerodynamics, but certainly with the smaller frontal area only made possible by the absence of bulky traditional powertrain components. Charging will be via the new CCS (Combined Charging System) standard, coming in 2018 and capable of up to 150kW direct current delivery at the fastest public facilities, and 350kW in future.
Interestingly Mercedes is aiming for price parity between its EVA vehicles and their equivalent petrol and diesel models. ‘We believe it will be possible to halve [battery] costs soon,’ says Daimler’s head of strategy, Wilko Stark. According to one marketing manager: ‘At the end of the day, it’s the product that must convince the customer. Our research tells us that in 15 years’ time, 65 per cent of the car buying population will consider a BEV [battery electric vehicle]. Today that number is below 5 per cent.’
The paradigm shift starts here.