Mercedes-Benz Australia says it will bring its first full-electric vehicle to market in 2019, but it needs the support of the government to justify long-term investment in the requisite local infrastructure.
Speaking to CarAdvice the brand’s local head of communication, David McCarthy, said there is a great deal of interest in electric vehicles from Mercedes Australia.
"Electric for us will be, to be conservative, in 2019. There is a lot of interest, a lot of interest, basically, if we are offered a vehicle [from Germany] we will take it, we think by that time there will be enough people that will want it… numbers won’t be huge initially, but it will increase.” McCarthy said.
Above: The first Mercedes EV in Australia will be GLC-sized
As for why the first EV from Mercedes in Australia will be an SUV, McCarthy says the brand can’t ignore market trends. The upcoming electric SUV will be similarly-sized to the current GLC.
Even so, Mercedes believes the advancement of electric vehicles in Australia will only take place if local, state and federal governments are willing to work with manufacturers to build the necessary framework.
"Look, it’s not just a matter of the government giving you a cheque, it can be forgoing revenue, working with different tiers of government to be able to install a charging station. It can be working with power companies, batteries are part of the solution.
"I believe that the government has to be part of the negotiation or discussion. In no market in the world have electric cars [been successful without government help]."
Mercedes-Benz electric vehicles will be built on a unique, highly scalable platform. Not only will that allow the German brand to produce additional models, it means the company can quickly adapt to changing battery technologies if necessary.
The internal combustion is likely to be around for many years to come, however, as the industry transitions to an electric future – one which (in Australia at least) arguably struggles to justify its green credentials because of current energy generation methods.
“As the internal combustion engine gets more efficient, it still has a place and you have to compare depending on how you generate your electricity you’re charging that car with, it [electric cars] could be a very dirty way to drive.
“Every country in the world wants lower emissions, but there isn’t the capacity. If you said in three years time we are not going to have any internal combustion engines in our range, you won’t be able to make enough powertrains, enough batteries, you have to scale it up… so they [EV and ICE] have to coexist.
"Ultimately there will come a tipping point because green energy is unlimited, oil isn’t. But that green has to be sustainable and has to be clean otherwise [there is no point]. You get transfixed by electric but it has to be clean electric."
Consultation between manufacturers and the government around electric vehicle infrastructure and clean energy generation is ongoing, and is taking place in a number of fora.
"You engage where you can as an individual, as a brand. You engage through FCAI (Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries), through EV council. The government has to make a decision about fuel standards and emissions for the internal combustion engine, they want to encourage low emission vehicles – well, they need to do it.
"Electric is part of that but fuel standard that is internationally consistent will go a long way, the local refiners are talking about reducing sulfur down to the levels that we would like. They are talking by 2025, frankly, that’s nonsense.”
Mercedes-Benz is deep in discussion with other manufacturers both locally and internationally about finalising a set of standards for both charging and other shared electric vehicle requirements.
“We are having that discussion in Australia… if we just develop a charging station network, and Audi do and BMW do, what’s the point? We are going to standardise the plug by end of 2018, so every plug-in or electric car in Australia will have the same plug.
"It’s taking a while but that’s the first step, you can’t develop a charging network on your own, one brand has, good on them, but if you share the cost and share the development you are going to have more of them.”
As for the first electric SUV, you can expect at least 400km in range – but for it to really become mainstream, easy accessible high capacity charging stations are required.
“Our pure electric vehicles will have a 400km+ range, that’s what it needs to have for people to feel comfortable using it, there is still going to be an element of ‘OMG (range anxiety)’ and that’s where 350kW charging ability is going to make a difference – but delivering that is another challenge.
"It’s no good setting up charging network that isn’t going to be upgraded into that, so it’s complex with a lot of moving parts and when you don’t have the government really being part of the discussion, you run the risk of ... you proceed on one basis and the government says you should do it this way [later on]."
On the issue of electric vehicles, McCarthy says the government seems preoccupied, with the industry keen to “engage them” – but they have to want to be engaged first.
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