Mercedes is on a mission to electrify itself. The Concept EQ gives a taste of what the result will be
SINGAPORE — If you can’t predict the future, you can at least catch a glimpse of it. Mercedes-Benz is taking the Concept EQ on a tour of our region, and the snazzy, battery-powered Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV) will be on display at Suntec City over the third weekend of May.
Daimler, the parent company of Mercedes-Benz, is showing off the concept car to bring its “EQ” electrification sub-brand to public attention in our part of the world.
Mercedes-Benz Malaysia chief executive Claus Weidner (left) and sales and marketing head Mark Raine (right) unveil the Concept EQ in Malaysia, as it embarks on a tour of Southeast Asia
Its arrival here will pave the way for the launch of two plug-in hybrid electric vehicles from Mercedes, the C 350 e (main pic) and E 350 e. Both will debut here by July.
The EQ label is Mercedes’ tag for a planned line of sustainable, electric or electrified cars. It sits at the opposite end of the Mercedes brand portfolio from the high-performance AMG brand, the same way BMW’s product range is bookended by i and iPerformance on the eco side, and M on the performance side.
First shown at the 2016 Paris auto salon, the Concept EQ made its regional debut in Malaysia on May 3rd. “We are flipping the switch,” said Claus Weidner, the president and chief executive of Mercedes-Benz Malaysia at the Concept EQ’s local unveiling. “The future is undoubtedly electric.”
As it tours our region it highlights what Mercedes envisions for its future EQ cars. The styling aims to be distinctly “electro”, according to Mercedes. It has no front grille, but mimics one with a glossy, blacklit panel, and it does without door handles and wing mirrors. Cameras replace the latter, and a fingerprint scanner takes the place of the former.
Inside, the Concept EQ gives a glimpse at what the cabin controls of future Mercedes models will look like. It dispenses with traditional switches and knobs, replacing them with touch-based controls. Even the spokes on the steering wheel have OLED touchscreen menus.
While EQ is sustainability-focused, the Concept EQ itself is no slouch. Its twin electric motors deliver 408 horsepower, which launches the car to 100km/h in less than five seconds. The motors unleash 700Nm of torque immediately. Mark Raine, the vice-president for sales and marketing at Mercedes-Benz Malaysia had a brief drive in the car, and pronounced it “very, very cool.”
“It’s different, I must be very honest. It’s a different kind of experience because an electric powertrain has that instant torque, so the power is instantly there,” he told CarBuyer. “Obviously, as it’s a concept car, you have to be a bit cautious!”
Mr Raine will be able to be less cautious in 2019, however, when the Concept EQ goes on sale as a regular production car. Observers expect it to be christened “EQ C” when it enters showrooms, in a parallel naming structure to Mercedes’ current cars. The brand is said to be planning a battery-powered S-Class to rival Tesla’s Model S, for example, and that is expected to be called the “EQ S”.
Whatever naming system Mercedes decides on, it had better offer plenty of room: Mercedes will launch 10 pure-electric vehicles under the EQ brand within the next four years.
Battery power will augment combustion models in the meantime. “By 2022, we will have electrified variants in every segment, from our compact cars to SUVs,” said Mercedes-Benz Malaysia’s Dr Weider.
The new Mercedes CLS gives a small taste of that with its “EQ Boost” mild-hybrid system. It makes use of a 48-volt electrical system to enable fuel-saving features such as an engine shutdown mode that lets the car freewheel on the expressway.
A larger dose of electric power will be found in the plug-in C 350 e and E 350 e that are headed here.
The E 350 e (below) directly challenges the BMW 530e iPerformance and is built to a similar recipe: a 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder petrol is the main power source, with a 87hp/440Nm electric motor sandwiched between it and a nine-speed auto.
System output is 281hp, with maximum torque a heady 550Nm. A large lithium-ion battery bank sits under the boot floor to enable over 30km of petrol-free travel, but cuts cargo space from 540 litres to 400.
The E 350 e gallops to 100km/h in 6.2 seconds (same as an E 300), but its real party trick is the ability to out-manoeuvre the taxman (or at least, the oilman) with fuel consumption rated at as little as 2.1L/100km in some markets, translating to 48g per 100km of carbon emissions.
The numbers are similar on the incoming C 350 e plug-in petrol-electric hybrid: the 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbo makes 208hp and 350Nm, the electric motor generates 80hp and 340Nm, and they drive the rear wheels through a seven-speed auto. System output is 275hp and 600Nm, good for 100km/h in 5.9 seconds.
In pure electric mode, it should travel around 30km on a single charge of the battery, which takes up 140 litres of the boot, leaving just 335 litres.
What the numbers can’t capture is how it’s likely to be offer a broad range of experiences: EV silence for that dreaded commute, and lots of acceleration when you’re out on the open road. It’ll be interesting to see how the Mercedes fares against its main rival, the BMW 330e iPerformance.
Mercedes’ plug-in cars arrive a year after BMW’s, but Mercedes is having to play catch up in a broader sense. The BMW Group launched its i and iPerformance sub-brands ahead of key rivals, and now sells more than 100,000 electrified cars a year. By 2025 it will have 12 full-electric cars in its BMW and Mini lineups.
The Volkswagen Group says it will electrify its entire model portfolio by 2030, which is expected to span some 300 models. By 2025, it expects a quarter of its sales to come from pure-electric cars.
That is still seven years away, in which time much can happen, but here and elsewhere, it seems clear that the landscape for electric cars is set to become ever more crowded. That’s one area of the future that you can safely predict.
Words Leow Ju-Len
Pictures Mercedes-Benz Malaysia and Leow Ju-Len