Mercedes-Benz is planning to add more electric vehicles to its model range over the coming years as demand is expected to grow. And yes, a Tesla rival is probably one of them.
The company sells the B-Class Electric Drive in some markets, has previously sold the SLS AMG Electric Drive sports car, and under sub-brand Smart (which won't be sold in Australia in its new-generation guise) there is some good potential for urban runabouts to run emissions-free, according to Weber.
“As you know, a lot of full electric vehicles are on the road. In the meantime, especially in combination we have at the moment a Smart electric – that for a long period of time was the market leader.
“And it’s clear that with the upcoming new Smart we will launch a two-seater and four-seater, and also a cabriolet, as pure EV,” Weber said.
However, it’s larger cars with longer range that are one of the talking points of the motor show. Porsche unveiled its Mission E concept with 500 kilometres of range, and Audi’s Allroad e-tron quattro concept SUV – a precursor to an all-new Q6 model due in 2018 – also bowed at the show with a similar level of battery range.
There’s one brand that already has EVs with that sort of mileage capability – Tesla Motors – and that seemed to be the conclusion many reached at the show: all of these new models that are coming will be Tesla competitors. And, when you look at the numbers, rightly so.
“I can confirm also on vehicles going into a range of 400 to 500 kilometres, I can confirm we are looking for, and we are doing such a vehicle, in a short period of time,” Weber said, without giving too much more away on the specifics of the car.
However, he went on to state that there’s an awareness of the Silicon Valley startup and what it has achieved in a short period of time.
“Tesla is an important competitor with a niche portfolio of pure EV, and therefore we are looking carefully at what these guys are doing. We respect them. But I think we have a lot of good ideas. Stay tuned,” Weber hinted.
“At the end, electro-mobility [will be] key for the future. That’s clear because zero-emission driving definitely will be necessary in some years from now.
“Therefore, the only question is ‘what is the right sequence?’ We deeply believe electrification of the whole drivetrain will come, therefore we are focused to launch – as fast as possible – our plug-in hybrid offensive,” Weber said, referring to the company’s plans for a rapid expansion of plug-in hybrid models.
“Five plug-ins are on the street in the dealerships, 10 announced up to 2017, that’s key, and first priority,” he said, referring to the C350e sedan, C350e wagon, GLC350e, GLE350e and S500 Plug-In Hybrid (it was out prior to the 'e' suffix treatment).
When it comes to cars that run only a battery/motor system without any fossil fuel backup, Weber said there’s definitely a place for those sorts of vehicles in the near future.
“Pure electric vehicles, I believe, also are important for the future. We focused around electric vehicles for urban areas, therefore a huge focus on the Smart family. Alongside of the development of the infrastructure, the charging stations, yes of course there is a market demand – small numbers still – but we will be ready in time when the growth in this area starts. Stay tuned.”
It seems likely that a new electric production car is imminent, then, and CarAdvice has heard rumblings of a new charging station network being rolled out in some countries – including Australia – to help with the upcoming plethora of models that will benefit from being plugged in.
When asked if using an affordable EV model as the springboard for bigger and more expensive models – or indeed, using an expensive model to start the process off and then allowing the technology to filter down to smaller cars to amortise costs – Weber said “there is no single strategy only”.
“On the safety side sometimes we start in the mass market: A-Class with our collision prevention assist, we had to bring as fast as possible volume to the customer.
“But most of the time, yes, high-tech will start at the top down. That was, by the way, the reason we launched the S-Class plug-in first and then step by step we’re rolling out these technologies.
“So we are looking what is the right sequence, and … there is a launch plan for the vehicles, and a module strategy for the components, and we can combine platforms and the variants with the right technology package for safety, for drivetrain, for connectivity, and then we mix that up and right in time, the best combination will be available.”