Mercedes has launched a flat-out assault on the EV sector in recent times and has pinned its hopes on the EQ sub-brand. The Generation EQ SUV concept will lead the charge, but Mercedes fully intends to have an arsenal of electric vehicles on the road in the years to come.
The German marque refused to commit to a full electric future, publicly, until the infrastructure was in place. So it went the hybrid route and has the whole range, from the Smart city car through to the S550e S-Class. These were always a halfway house, though, and Mercedes is on the cusp of an all-electric, self-driving future that could yet spring a surprise.
We’ll have to wait for a Mercedes EV
Now the Generation EQ won’t hit the showrooms until 2018, but it’s the marque’s flagship and will lead the charge against the Tesla Model S. At the very least it will give the discerning public a real choice when it comes to the top end EVs. If it stays true to the concept that made its debut at the Paris Motor Show, it could yet be a special car.
The EQ is a stylish SUV that can handle up to 300kW (402bhp) and comes with four-wheel-drive and a sense of fun with the design that is missing from the more staid Tesla alternative. The interior looks like a real car for the future with touchscreens and LEDs taking over from buttons and LEDs, while the 310-mile range is more than enough. It looks promising and it’s the first of a new wave of Mercedes electric vehicles.
Effective wireless charging is coming
It and a number of hybrids will also come with wireless charging from next year. An exclusive deal with Qualcomm will bring charging pads into the mainstream and you can just park your car over the top of it to start the charge. It’s immense tech and it will make life easier, even though it is just a 3.6kW pack right now and that might prove frustrating at first. It is technology that will get better.
Autonomy is seriously high on the agenda, too, and the Generation EQ will come with the hardware for full Level 4 control with a fully-connected car. Mercedes joined forces with BMW and Audi to buy Nokia’s mapping software and it already has self-driving hardware and a good deal of autonomy with the new E-Class.
The self-driving system has to improve
Drive Pilot is effectively Mercedes’ Autopilot and will take the wheel on a tentative basis. It’s still branded as a driver assist and you need to be on hand to make sure that the car really is taking the bend ahead, but it’s a step in the right direction.
The E-Class offers accident avoidance alerts and assistance, emergency braking and the kind of connectivity that leaves the current S-Class in the shade. It can also park itself, come to meet you from a parking spot and communicate with other connected cars and road signals in the first small step towards fully IoT connected car.
Normal service will be resumed with the new S Class in 2018, which will inevitably retake the title, but until then the mid-range car is actually the technical flagship.
It isn’t perfect and Drive Pilot is some way off Tesla’s system right now, but that will improve. A deal with Uber to collaborate on the ride-hailing scheme’s self-driving technology as part of the next system shows Daimler’s commitment to getting it right.
Ride hailing is high on the agenda
Daimler already has Cars2Go in operation, which is a one-way rental service using Smarts and Mercedes cars. That will either become a much bigger part of the business plan as autonomy becomes the norm or disappear completely if the marriage with Uber proves fruitful.
With Mercedes’ ambitious plans, it could yet form an unbreakable bond with Uber that could bring a fleet of Mercs to city centers around the world as part of the world’s biggest autonomous cab firm.
Daimler has Mercedes, Smart and potentially Maybach to kit out with self-driving, EV technology, as well as its buses and trucks. Self-driving Daimler buses are already in service on a 12-mile route in the Netherlands and Daimler’s commercial arm could prove even more important than the passenger cars in the long run.
Placing big bets on future tech
Daimler has increased its R&D budget in a big way. In 2015 it spent $7.28 billion, which was a $1 billion increase on 2014. Last year, it spent even more.
The company has invested heavily in battery technology and is working on its own Gigafactory, tripling the size of its 215,000 square foot factory in Kamenz, Germany. The plan is to sell Powerwall-style battery packs for the home, too, and Daimler has ploughed $1.1 billion into subsidiary company ACCUmotive.
It also has a deal in place with SK Innovation to buy in battery cells. So there’s a contingency plan in place while it gets its own operation running smoothly.
Battery supply is a big deal for the mainstream manufacturers and Mercedes has decided to bring it all in house. That’s a big commitment in itself and shows Mercedes is deadly serious about its EV division.
10 cars by 2025, according to Mercedes
The marque has promised a conveyor belt of new EVs in the months and years ahead hand they will range from the Smart Fortwo to the luxury cars that Mercedes is famous for and the big commercial vehicles. We’ll have 10 EVs by 2025, so we can expect to see Mercedes cover its current range with a broad brush approach. Then it will go in to fine tune specs and model variants.
Smart’s Fortwo has always struggled for traction in the US, but as an electric city car that drives itself then it suddenly makes a lot more sense. If it can go anywhere and park anywhere, stay tax exempt and cost literally cents a day to run, then the diminutive machine suddenly makes a lot more sense. An army of these two-seater pods could run through the city as ride hailing cars for up to two passengers, too.
Mercedes and electric power is a natural marriage
As electric power matures, it should suit the character of Mercedes’ other cars well. Smooth power delivery and a refined driving experience are hallmarks of the brand and a quieter, more controllable power plant should fit right in with the higher-end S-Class and SL equivalents.
Even the increased weight of today’s battery packs shouldn’t count against Mercedes. Apart from the GTS and rare Black Series models, the company really isn’t known for razor’s edge handling in any case, and electric powerplants mean that Mercedes can eventually do away with its automatic gearboxes that come with up to nine speeds and mitigate the extra weight.
Get ready for a Mercedes reboot with each EQ
Based on the extravagant Generation EQ, the electric line-up will be more than an evolution of the current cars. Each model will be a total rethink to make full use of the latest tech and implement totally different design cues. After the brave SUV prototype that Mercedes describes as near production ready, we’re looking forward to radical new concepts for the S-Class and future Maybachs.
The EQ sub-brand looks seriously good and we can look forward to self-driving C-Class equivalents, Vito vans, and we really cannot wait to see what it does with the S-Class and inevitable all-electric G-Wagon.
Arnie’s getting his G-Wagon early
Arnold Schwarzenegger will have his bespoke electric G-Wagon long before the official version breaks cover. But we have a feeling that the works reboot of such an iconic car is going to be a totally different animal.
After years in the wilderness when it came to EVs, Mercedes has laid down a serious marker with the Generation EQ concept and now it just needs to get this next generation of cars on the road. It has promised a full line-up of electric cars, from the Smart through to the luxury market. If they live up the EQ brand’s first big reveal then we’ve got a lot to look forward to from the Three-Pointed Star.
We can’t wait to see what’s coming next.