Mercedes-Benz has announced a big move toward electric cars. To do it, the company is allocating $1 billion to its Alabama plant. As you may expect, this emphasis on greener cars is paralleling the company’s trend toward autonomous driving.
What’s Driving Mercedes-Benz?
Mercedes-Benz is planning to challenge every other company, especially Tesla, the upstart luxury company that only makes electric cars. Mercedes has announced plans to go directly after the Tesla market. A letter to investors suggested that Mercedes-Benz expects to outmaneuver Tesla on battery, manufacturing and procurement costs. Of course, the company is also angling to maintain its performance and handling advantage.
The automaker is stepping further away from diesel, especially in light of the Volkswagen diesel scandal, and it is moving nearer to a goal of clean energy vehicles by making this huge investment in the Alabama facility. The company clearly has its eye on the coming sea change in world markets. India and China have announced plans to phase out diesel and gas engines. England, France and other European nations are moving even more quickly toward cleaner cars. Other countries are sure to jump on board as the technology becomes more readily available.
Where Will the Money Go?
Part of that one billion dollars will pay for building a one-million sq.ft. battery facility in Tuscaloosa, AL. That will be one of five such Mercedes facilities worldwide, and it’s only five miles from a current Mercedes assembly plant in Bibb County, AL. Some of the money will be spent on a new body manufacturing shop. Other dollars will go to upgrade computer systems, robotics, and machinery.
In 2019, the company plans to open the Global Logistics Center. This will provide local support to its Bibb County plant, but it will also be part of the worldlwide logistics operation. The Center will ship kits for use in vehicle production overseas. By late 2020, the company expects to offer an after-sales distribution center as part of the GLC. This will act as a North American hub, supplying spare parts to overseas Mercedes-Benz markets.
How Fast Can They Go?
Industry analysts are asking how fast can Mercedes-Benz get its products to market. The company doesn’t expect the Alabama investment to produce vehicles before 2020. By 2022, however, they expect to manufacture 50 electric variants. Before the Alabama announcement, previous statements had suggested only ten.
Since the manufacturer has always emphasized performance, you can bet their engineers will be working to outdo Tesla on horsepower and electric range. That’s a tall order for any car company. Here’s what they are up against. The Tesla 3 has a zero-to-sixty sprint time of 5.6 seconds. It can run for 220 miles before needing a charge. The higher-priced edition shaves the sprint time to 5.1 seconds and boosts range to 310 miles.
Working faster is another stumbling block. Tesla is expected to bring a third model to market shortly, giving it a leg up on the competition. Volvo has announced that it will go strictly hybrid or electric by 2019. In the nonluxury world, the Chevy Bolt EV has become a major player, thanks to its 238-mile range.
What Will They Look Like?
Current hybrids and EVs don’t look too different from their gas-powered counterparts. The newest model is the 2018 S-Class hybrid EV. From the high quality sheet metal to the cutting-edge design, it looks quite like any other beautiful luxury sedan. This car can run for up to 25 miles on electric power alone. The electric torque rate is 325 lb.ft. It also has a performance output of 362 horsepower with the gasoline engine.
The EQA Concept car shows the direction Mercedes intends to go with some of its lineup. As a sporty SUV coupe, it has a compact crossover’s dimensions. The projected electric range is more than 300 miles. Most fascinating, it has a huge touch screen. Covering much of the dashboard, this is the driver’s cockpit. All functions are here, and the knobs and buttons are scarce. Autonomous driving is expected to do much of the work. Since this is a GLC edition, pricing projections run about $50,000.
Once the full vision is realized, drivers can expect to see a whole line-up of electric sedans, coupes and SUVs under the Mercedes-Benz nameplate. Will the current move be quick enough to counter the competition? There’s a lot riding on it, to be sure.