THE head of Mercedes-Benz Australia/Pacific, Horst von Sanden, is confident the Germany luxury marque’s first electric vehicle, the EQC SUV, will be a “gamechanger” for the company and the industry when it launches here late next year.
In an interview with GoAuto at the launch of the updated C-Class in Victoria this week, Mr von Sanden said the company intended to offer every EQ model that “makes sense in this marketplace” – which could be most, if not all of the 10 EVs planned by 2025 – based on high expectations within the company and among prospective customers.
While unable to provide specific figures, Mr von Sanden said the Australian subsidiary had been “inundated” with enquires since the EQC’s unveiling in Stockholm, Sweden, earlier this month, and that dealers had reported “extremely strong” early interest before officially taking deposits and firm orders when pricing is announced closer to launch.
He also cautioned that Australian allocations of the EQC were still to be confirmed, and might only be low in the early period of production – operating as “a ramp-up scenario” – given the small size of the EV market here.
But as a gamechanger, Mr von Sanden was unequivocal about the EQC’s expected influence in Australia.
“It sure will,” he said.
“It’s obviously the first fully electric car that Mercedes-Benz will sell, and I think with the expectation of our prospects and customers, us being the experienced car brand that has invented the car and certainly having taken a bit longer before we bring out an electric car, I think there are high expectations and the word is already out there in the market that, ‘Okay, if Mercedes is getting serious about electric cars, then this will be a gamechanger.’
“These are not my words, these are words of consumers. I think there’s quite a number of people waiting for it and being very confident and are going to buy one.”
Audi has also just unveiled the all-new, all-electric e-tron crossover due to launch next year, and its Australian arm has committed to selling every variant made available to this market.
As to whether Mercedes would follow suit, Mr von Sanden said: “(It’s) probably a bit early to say. If the success we expect with the first vehicle comes true, then why not?
“Whilst we look in general in our range to reduce complexity, also for the benefit of the customer, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to offer really every car, especially if we only sell very low volumes. But in general, we want to make every car that makes sense in this marketplace available to our customers.”
Mr von Sanden would not be drawn on nominating the potential number of EV sales the company could achieve as all-electric models are launched, saying it depends on market demand and how the recharging infrastructure evolves, the latter being an area Mercedes is quietly working on with potential partners.
He also said he could not be certain that Mercedes would be the clear sales leader for EVs among the luxury brands – including Tesla – just as it dominates the market in overall terms.
However, the Mercedes chief made it clear that “we are ambitious, no doubt”.
“I look at it in a pragmatic and simplistic way,” he said. “You know, if you have 132 years of experience, if you have invented the motor car, if you have been the technology leader in all different fields for so many years, I can’t see a reason why, in a new field, this experience shouldn’t come to fruition.
“We’ve never been interested in power battles, really. Of course it’s great to be market leader, but I think we try to do it in a more subtle way. We try to put the right strategies into place to be successful, and don’t run around and make big announcements that we’ll be the leaders.
“We’ll see. We are ambitious, no doubt.
“If you don’t only talk in numbers – if you talk in technology and design (terms), yes, of course, that’s part of our brand – we want to be technology leaders, we want to be leaders in innovative design, and that is no different regardless of whether it’s combustion engine or electric.”
Mercedes-Benz Aust/Pac is committed to following the global directive that every model line will have some form of electrification by 2022.
Asked if the migration to EVs should be left to the market or forced by government quotas or regulation, Mr von Sanden said: “‘Forced’ is not a nice word. I would say ‘supported’ – ideally. I think in the end it’s the consumer’s choice, but the consumer needs to be given a motivation for change, and shouldn’t be punished for the preparedness to change.”
The EQC will make its public debut at the Paris motor show next week and will enter production in the first half of next year alongside conventional Mercedes large cars at the company’s Bremen plant in Germany.
It will be followed by the EQA small hatch – a concept of which was presented at the Frankfurt motor show last year – before other models come on stream, including an EQB and EQS.
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