The show is over, the piano played, the applause faded quickly, and sobering reports are trickling in. I am talking about the Mercedes EQC, the first electric vehicle from Mercedes that is supposed to counter Tesla, which was presented to the public in Stockholm this week.
Right here the takeaway: the Mercedes EQC neither is countering Tesla, nor is it a Tesla-killer; in the best case it’s a combustion car killer. Worse is that the EQC neither matches expected electric vehicle standards of the past years, and also not even those of the future or appearing to be on the path there. It’s the Buick of the electric vehicles, a car for old people who want to be a bit pregnant but not too much, to feel young. The EQC underwhelms.
The reasons for those harsh words are quickly listed:
- the body frame of the EQC is based on the combustion engine model;
- the EQC is built on the same production line as the combustion engine vehicle;
- the EQC’s performance data from 2018 are worse than the ones from Tesla’s Model S in 2012;
- missing or unambitious preparation for automated or even autonomous driving;
1) Car Body Frame
A combustion engine requires a different car body design that an electric vehicle. Instead of an engine, transmission, exhaust system and fuel tank, there are ‘just’ electric motor(s) and a battery pack. An electric vehicle allows to use freed up space for other purposes. Instead of the engine compartment there is now space for a frunk = ‘front trunk’ as we know it from Tesla vehicles. The space usually occupied by fuel tank, exhaust and transmission makes the passenger space of electric vehicles much roomier. And the battery that is usually then found in the floor under the passenger cabin makes the car stiffer, the center of gravity lower, and makes for a different, often better driving experience.
Mercedes stated that the reason for the missing frunk are the sold steel pipes that serve to increase safety in case of a crash. With Tesla earning the highest safety ratings all the time, how do they manage to do this without those pipes? As you can see on this picture, there is a lot of other stuff packed into the frunk, for which Mercedes couldn’t find any other space to hide that in the car. Considering the Tesla Model S sedan is smaller, how’s that possible that Tesla could find that space?
Also look at the car’s inside, especially at the back seats, the empty shell in the foot area, where you’d normally find the transmission and stuff. Why do we still need that in the EQC? Because the design is based on a combustion car.
2) Production Line
A joint production line for electric and combustion vehicles sounds absolutely rational in the beginning. A flexible production line may be more expensive, but it’s cheaper than building the of them. Should there be any volatility in sales between those cars, the single production line will see a better occupation rate. From an economical perspective absolutely reasonable.
Unfortunately, such a production line is neither for the one or the other vehicle type optimized. You reach a better optimum if the car frame design is not too different. Which leads us back to 1).
We can also suspect that this very specific production line is optimized for the combustion car. Mercedes has experience with building combustion cars, they have been doing that for 130 years. With electric vehicles, Mercedes has just started to do so.
And that leads us to the title image. The missing frunk. And this is the most obvious sign that there are many more of those compromises, making the EQC to a weak competitor for electric vehicles in the Tesla-class. The front grill is at least as anachronistic as the buggy whips that cars were equipped with in the beginnings of automobiles.
The trunk is places as high and as probably narrow as it could be, because the combustion engine car has exhaust pipes and fuel tank there.
3) Performance Data
A comparison of performance data with the Model S, as described in the spec sheet from 2012, and the EQC from 2018 (as supposed to be sold in 2019), shows, that there must have been a standstill. Not only does the EQC not reach the performance data of the Model S – admittedly, the EQC is half a ton heavier – but Mercedes seems not even to have tried to reach those old performance data, and not even forecast, where the performance data of a Tesla Model S or X will be in in 2019, and work towards them!
|Tesla Model S (2012)||Mercedes EQC (2019)|
|0 to 100km/h||4.3 seconds||>5 seconds|
To reach future performance criteria, you use a method called Future Benchmarking. That’s a Foresight Mindset-methode, to build something which is not hopelessly outdated once it hits the markets. Did Mercedes do something similar for the EQC? Looking at the performance data, obviously not!
Now one could argue that nobody needs such great acceleration, and the range is more than enough for the daily commute, and that the car is driven in a more comfortable mode, and not high speed on the German Autobahn. And I totally agree. This alone would not be an argument. But because of 1) and 2) damping the mood, and now 3) adds to that, the mood is becoming gloomier.
4) Digitalization, Autonomous Driving
Less obvious, because less in the focus of Europe, is the design around the driver. A digital display was introduced, even a voice assistant is in the car. But instead of moving functionality to a touch screen, there are still a lot of buttons and levers in the car.
Tesla Model 3 – the latest generation of a Tesla vehicle – has a very clean design, and even goes so far that one can recognize (after some photoshopping) that the designers had the goal to design the Model 3 as autonomous car.
I am aware that the arrival of autonomous car will take some time, especially in Germany (probably between 3 to five years). And the language used by German car makers also shows what they think about it. They consistently talk about automated driving, not about autonomous driving. First is going maximum to Level 3 and is nothing else than a better driver’s assist system. Latter is Level 4 and later Level 5. And German car makers fell far behind.
I am also aware that the Mercedes clientele seems to be an older one. I mentioned it before: Mercedes is the Buick among electric vehicles. And for them digital bling-bling is a disturbance, and autonomous driving won’t arrive earlier than 2040, if at all.
The voice assistant is something I find promising, but the example shown at the presentation in Stockholm “Charge my car full, tomorrow I have a long distance to drive!” seemed lame. Don’t we charge the car fully over night anyways? I would have liked a smarter example. But maybe another sign that experience with digitization is somewhat lacking at Mercedes.
5) The Compliance Car
The fifth and last talking point explains why the Mercedes EQC is no Tesla-killer, and why Mercedes has been approaching that without much ambition. To avoid penalties for excess exhaust gas emissions, and given the fact that more and more cars sold are heavy and fuel consuming SUVs, they emit way more carbon-dioxide. Selling more electric vehicles allows them to lower fleet emissions, and thus sell more combustion cars.
The Mercedes EQC is nothing else than a Compliance Car. It’s being built to fulfill regulatory requirements, not because you love electric vehicles. The EQC is an unloved stepchild. They don’t believe in it, they are forced to produce them.
As Mercedes is planning to launch 10 types of electric vehicles until 2021, and not much time is left to fix the problems mentioned for the EQC, doubt that we are going to see something progressive and innovative. I wouldn’t be surprised, if the EQC sells so weakly that Mercedes’ whole planing gets messed up and inside the company electric vehicles will be seen as failure, and thus even less effort is spent.
Why do I think it will not really sell? Well, point 1), 2), 3), and 4), as well as a not yet officially named but rumored sales price of €70,000 which is thanks to 1) to 4) a frivolously high price. Meanwhile, Tesla clears the way for other (mostly Chinese) companies to come with promising, innovative, and more ambitious looking cars in the Model S and EQC-class on the market. And the Chinese have more experience, the better prices, and the better technology.
Ultimately, the Mercedes EQC is damaging the electric vehicle progress more than it helps.
What about BMW, Volkswagen & Co?
Audi and BMW are scheduled to present their electric vehicles in the next days, and I want to remain optimistic that the Audi e-tron and the BMW iX3 will surprise me in a positive way and don’t show those characteristics mentioned about the Mercedes EQC. BMW has been producing a very innovative electric vehicle wit the i3, albeit very weak performance data. The iX3 that BMW teased gives us expectations to see an SUV like the EQC. And Audi? The former CEO is still in custody, the VW-diesel-scandal was initiated by Audi, and now with the e-tron the company wants to bring Level 3 on the roads, and has already started production. Very contradictory messages. But let’s keep an open mind, be surprised, and reconvene in a few days.
A last question that I am asking myself, and which I asked at the beginning of this year was: Has Mercedes just given up? Just answer the question for yourself…
This article has also been published in German.