Mercedes’ first production electric car under the new EQ mantle has been revealed. It’s certainly set to spark up interest.
BEATING Tesla is an obvious ambition for Mercedes now that the world’s oldest carmaker is entering the brave new world of battery-pure motoring, but bad mouthing isn’t part of the strategy.
Even directly naming the American electric car operation seems challenging.
When asked at the world reveal in Sweden this week of his make’s first pure electric production car, the EQC, to express his opinion about the impact of Elon Musk’s pet project, Mercedes board member responsible for research and development, Ola Kallenius, chose his words carefully and averted using the ‘T’-word.
What has occurred in EV-dom to date, the 49-year-old suggested, has been important to motoring.
Yet he politely rejects the proposal that Mercedes and other big name established car brands are now ramping up for serious, large-scale entry into EV-dom only because they felt they had to match the maverick US firm’s achievements.
The real reason is, he said, that the world is changing and carmakers knew they had to change with it. “We were all going to go there.”
He says the impact made by EV producers so far has been akin to a snowball having rolled down a mountain. What was coming was more equivalent to an avalanche.
Especially from his own brand. A four-wheel-drive crossover with an 80kWh dual motor powertrain promising a 300kW/765Nm output and 450km-plus range, provisionally set to price above $110,000 and below $160,000 here, is just the first of 10 pure battery products set to be delivered under this zero-emissions strategy by 2022. Even more are said to be under development for release beyond that date. Daimler has approved a $17.3 billion programme to launch around 130 electrified variants over seven years, split across pure electric EQ, mild-hybrid EQ Boost and EQ Power plug-in hybrid.
What impact will the pure EVs make? It’s an interesting question. A year ago Daimler forecast that sales of battery-powered models would account for up to 25 percent of its vehicle sales by 2025. They story had changed in Stockholm on September 4, where chief executive Dieter Zetsche put a less optimistic view, expressing to media that ramp-up of EQC production will be slower than the rollout of internal combustion engine cars.
Even so, Benz is in this game for keeps and, whereas Tesla seems intent to keep burning bucks, Mercedes reckons it can make a dollar from this level of power play, if not immediately.
Back to Kallenius. The 48-year-old Swede, who was previously head of AMG, attests that “profitable growth must be part of the picture for electric mobility.”
EQC and perhaps others to follow – so far, we know about EQA, a small hatch, an unnamed Tesla3-like sedan and EQS, a big luxury car - won’t be instant dollar turners.
“At the beginning of the electric journey, the cost structures are higher than what we experienced previously on combustion-based cars, but as we get into volume and further develop the technology – especially on the battery side – we go from thousands, tens of thousands, to hundreds of thousands of vehicles per year, we see a very good chance for that cost curve to become much more attractive.”
Starting with a crossover, rather than a performance car or a large sedan as Tesla did with the Model S back in 2012, makes sense because the soft-roader sector is booming globally, especially in the compact zone.
It seems probable EQC will come into New Zealand very shortly after production hits full pace, which Benz says happen by June. The brand likes our Green scene – that there is good EV interest not just from potential buyers but also Government.
“It’s clear to our team that the uptake of EVs in NZ is of high priority,” says Australasia spokesman Jerry Stamoulis. “We treat our initial and future planning in a similar way.”
FYI even though Benz is planning to produce EQC from three countries – Germany, China and the United States – ours are out of the Bremen factory that also builds the GLC and C-Class.
The Stockholm soiree pushed EQC’s sophistication and style but not its moves. The media drive is months away.
Obviously, the EQC could be seen as a competitor for the Tesla Model X, which starts in 75kWh, 417km range form for $137,700 with a 100kWh/565km edition at $164,300. It will also rival the Jaguar i-Pace, which is even more sporting and has a slightly more powerful setup, and presumably Audi’s e-tron and the BMW iX3 here within 24 months.
The car at the reveal had a ‘400’ designation on the tailgate, a strong indicator that it might be the first of several versions. It may be only a matter of time before we see more powerful variants. And AMG are certainly said to be keen to enter this business too. Potentially, there will one day be at least fully-blown AMG car in the EV mix. It’ll probably also cash in on creating body kits and so on. One of the show cars had AMG floor mats.
It is expected to fulfil the same seal-biased driving role as the GLC that relates stylistically and technically – though Benz suggests 85 percent alteration, including the EV being on an Electric Vehicle Architecture platform that, while described as new, shares elements with the MRA system that underpins the GLC.
EQC is longer and lower (though not as low as the GLC Coupe’s) and exterior styling more radical, especially front and rear.
Lighting is used to good effect – even to illuminate the star emblem on the grille, a feature that though redundant in a practical sense is retained because, head of exterior design Robert Lesnik says, “a car needs a face.” Nineteen-inch rims as standard and up to 22s as an option also expresses its style. NZ will take a high spec.
Save for seating plan commonality, the interior is more radical and upmarket than GLC’s, more resembling that of the updated C-Class about to come on sale - a reminder of economies of scale that electric-only Tesla cannot match It most notably takes the MBUX voice-influenced driver infotainment system, that has just debuted in A-Class, with its AI-powered ‘Hey Mercedes’ voice recognition system.
The interior design theme is also supposed flavoured by electric associations. Hence the metal highlights are influenced by high-end amplifiers, so have strakes, and the narrow and wide air vents in place of the round jet engine style ones in regular Benz cars are inspired by circuit boards.
It does its bit for sustainability by using recycled materials for 100 components but not overtly in the cabin. Some hidden seat parts render from plastic drink bottles but forget about BMW-style plant material trims. Rose gold filaments remind this is a high-quality product.
The drivetrain is where the real action is.
The EQC is equipped with the latest generation of a lithium-ion (Li-Ion) battery serving as the energy source for both electric motors. The battery consists of 384 cells and is located in the vehicle floor, between the two axles. The battery system is modular in design, consisting of two modules with 48 cells each and four with 72 cells each. The powerful high-voltage battery has a maximum voltage of 408 V and a nominal capacity of 210 Ah, for an energy content of 80 kWh (according to NEDC).
The integral overall cooling concept of the EQC, consisting of a heat pump function and two electric PTC heater boosters, not only includes the power electronics, the electric motor and the rotor, but also the battery. The entire battery system is liquid-cooled. At low temperatures a battery heater ensures outstanding performance and efficiency, the brand says.
The battery feeds two asynchronous electric motors, each driving an axle, ancillary electronics locating under the bonnet. The front motor optimises for maximum slower driving efficiency. The rear is for dynamism. Predicted range of 450km-plus was achieved using the now defunct NEDC formula, but Benz vows a WLTP figure is coming.
A 2425kg kerb weight is almost identical to the GLC’s and while overall top speed is more modest – 180kmh to avoid stressing the battery – a claimed 0-100kmh sprint time of 5.1 seconds makes it almost GLC63 AMG quick. It also has towing capability, of 1800kg – still 700kg less than a regular GLC but nonetheless worth noting as it’s rare for EVs to even have any tow rating.
The battery recharges to 80 percent in 40 minutes when hooked to a charging station with an output of 110kW or 10-11 hours with a 240-volt home recharger, called the Mercedes Benz Wallbox, likely to be included into buy-in here. It takes a Type 2 CCS plug (importers note it’s CHAdeMO in Japan) and the battery warranty is for eight years or 160,000km use. The battery is produced in Germany, by the wholly-owned Daimler subsidiary Deutsche ACCUMOTIVE in Kamenz/Saxony.
The safety of electric vehicles has come to the fore as result of high-profile fires breaking out in Tesla models, sometimes even in normal operation.
Mercedes dedicated some time to assuring they have put EQC through extensive engineering solutions and tough testing to reduce the risk. Deformation elements have been installed between the vehicle’s frame and the battery to absorb energy in the event of a side impact. The energy storage unit is surrounded by a stable casing and cannot be punctured by foreign objects.
In the event of an accident, the high-voltage system automatically shuts down to prevent a critical build-up, even irreversibly depending on the severity. Taking into consideration cases where emergency teams might not be able to assist due to fire hazard risks, there are also shutdown points where first responders can deactivate the system manually.
The drive modes are likely to have significant impact on how quickly it powers through the energy. A Comfort setting that automatically becomes more dynamic depending on driving style is the default driving mode. Eco Assist and Max Range, which occasionally reduce the car to single motor operation, enhance range. Sport is for optimal response. An Individual setting allows parameters to be adjusted separately.
It has paddles behind the steering wheel, not for shifting gears – in usual EV fashion, it doesn’t have those - but for adjusting the level of braking recuperation. The left and right paddle respectively lessen and increase recuperation of braking energy. The right is also a pathway to an optimal setting in which one-pedal driving becomes possible, with the level of recuperation bringing the car to a stop without needing to depress the brake pedal.
The Eco Assist system is inventive in setting to out to enable an optimal cited thrift of 22.2kWh per 100km. It employs systems such as traffic sign recognition, navigation, and the vehicle's forward-facing cameras to advise the driver when it is appropriate to come off the accelerator – whether for recuperation or coasting. Speed limits, navigation route profile and map data, and distance from vehicles ahead can all factor into the system's driver assistance.
Zetsche expects considerably more than half of EQC customers will come from other brands. He does expect some cannibalisation, with some existing Mercedes customers choosing an EQC over a combustion engine product, GLC included.
Zetsche said competitor products might be superior to the EQC in certain respects, but this didn’t worry him. He and Kallenius compared Mercedes models to decathletes, where the sum total of different characteristics combined gave him confidence in the vehicle's positioning.