Just one decade ago, the majority of mainstream automakers turned their noses up in disgust at the idea of building an electric car. Bemoaning electric vehicles as being slow, boring, limited on range, difficult to refuel and expensive to make, pretty much every automaker had their own long list of reasons not to pursue an electric vehicle.
Even five years ago, despite the launch of case like the Nissan LEAF and Chevrolet Volt — not to mention the Tesla Roadster — automakers were reluctant to plow money into electric vehicle development. But in a post dieselgate world, we’re seeing more and more automakers step up to the plate, promising a slew of new electric and electrified vehicles over the next decade to help them meet global emission targets, lower corporate fuel economy figures and make the world a better place to live.
The latest to do this? German carmaker Daimler, parent company of both Mercedes-Benz and Smart, which is planning between six and nine brand-new electric car models as part of its plans to compete directly against the likes of Tesla in the electric car marketplace.
The fact Daimler is eager to chase Tesla is no new piece of news in itself: that information was offered by Daimler itself back in July when it announced an acceleration of its electric car development plans. But as Reuters reported yesterday, the German automaker appears to be developing far more electric cars than previously thought. Citing German trade magazine Automobilwosche, which itself cited sources close to the company, the news agency says that we should expect a slew of new models to enter into production some time between 2018 and 2024.
This ties in nicely with what we already know: namely that Daimler — specifically Mercedes-Benz — is considering its own sub-brand for electric vehicles similar to BMW’s i-brand of plug-in cars; and that the first electric models to launch will likely be two new electric sedans and two new electric SUVs based on existing models.
If it operated in the same way as the BMW i-brand, the new electric-car name plate would retain the same prestige and cachet as the rest of Mercedes-Benz while simultaneously allowing the new brand to appeal to buyers who perhaps may not be traditional Mercedes-Benz customers. Eventually, like BMW’s i-brand we’d expect technology from Mercedes-Benz’s new sub brand to filter through into mainstream models too.
Of course, it’s worth noting here that while Daimler is planning a massive expansion to its electric car offering, it already offers various plug-in vehicles around the world, including its all-electric (Tesla-engineered) B-Class Electric Drive, an all-electric version of the Smart ForTwo Electric Drive based on the previous-generation Smart ForTwo, and plug-in hybrid versions of the S-Class Sedan and C-Class Sedan.
To date however, none of those vehicles have been marketed as high-volume vehicles. Instead, existing electric models have been treated as compliance cars in order to meet zero emission mandate in various U.S. and European markets, while the various plug-in hybrid offerings have been sold as an alternative to diesel-engined cars for customers who want a cleaner, greener vehicle without ditching the Mercedes-Benz brand.
Daimler’s new push toward electric vehicles — and it seems to be a genuine one — will certainly increase the number of high-end and premium plug-in vehicles on the market. But with Tesla constantly revising its Model S and Model X electric cars — and readying itself to launch the Model 3 next year — Daimler is going to have its work cut out if it truly wants to steal back at least some of the premium market share it has already lost to the decade-old California company.
It’s undeniable that Daimler has Tesla beaten when it comes to premium interior features, but only time will tell if Daimler can beat Tesla on price, performance and range, too.
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