By MARK RICHARDSON
Special to The Globe and Mail
Friday, September 14, 2018
STOCKHOLM -- The new EQC is probably the most important vehicle Mercedes-Benz has produced - yet.
It's a Tesla fighter that finally offers one alternative from the German Big Boys to Elon Musk's upstart all-electric company. It's a mainstream vehicle that's allelectric, totally reliant on a network charging infrastructure that still needs improvement. And it's a 10-billion ($15-billion) investment on which Mercedes is betting its long-term future.
"I think there's no doubt that we're on a journey toward zero emissions, and if individual players in the market make a move, of course that will accelerate the market development," says Ola Kallenius, the member of the board of management of Daimler AG responsible for MercedesBenz cars' development. "A snowball has been thrown and an avalanche is coming down the mountain, so we're all going to go there."
Nobody outside of Mercedes is yet known to have driven the EQC and the proof of its abilities will come when it finally hits the road next year. But there's no going back since Tesla fired the first successful shots in the electric-vehicle war. Jaguar already has the I-Pace, and Audi is about to release its own all-electric e-Tron competitor.
There have been other all-electric cars from Mercedes, such as the new Smart car and any number of concepts, but none with the sales potential of the EQC compact SUV. This is a very real vehicle, revealed last week, that will be produced next year and sold around the world.
"The e-Tron will join the I-Pace much sooner, so you could say that they both will have significant impact to Tesla, as they are both designed ground-up as electrics," says Robert Karwel, senior manager, Power Information Network, J.D. Power. "The big leg-up is that they are packaged as SUVs, which is a red-hot body style right now. So you will definitely see them on the road."
The EQC will come to Canada in early 2020, no matter whether government rebates are offered.
It's the first of 10 different all-electric vehicles in the new EQ model lineup - one for every current size and style - that the company promises will be built and sold before the end of 2022.
There will be assembly plants for the vehicles and the batteries in Europe, Asia and North America, with U.S. production based in Tuscaloosa, Ala. This is a very big deal indeed.
Why start with a compact SUV?
"It seems almost obvious," Kallenius says. "It's what people are buying these days, and it's just the right place to start. It gives us the opportunity to capture as many Mercedes-Benz drivers as possible."
As well, the higher stance of an SUV benefits from a heavy battery that lies under the floor in a crash-protected chassis, keeping most of the weight low to the ground, and there's more space for it.
The EQC is all-wheel drive, although it's much more a dirt-road crossover than a rock-crawling truck. Its 80 kWh lithium-ion battery drives two separate motors, one for each axle. The motor at the front is intended as the "efficient" motor, eking out as much distance as possible, while the motor at the back is the "performance" motor, kicking in whenever you stamp on the throttle.
Both produce impressive numbers. In Europe, where official range claims are notoriously optimistic, the EQC is rated at 450 kilometres; there are no official claims for Canada yet, but it will probably come in around 400 km. This is similar to the Tesla Model X and probably the planned Model Y, and also the already released Jaguar iPace.
No price was announced at the EQC's reveal, but it will likely be similar to the all-electric iPace, which lists for $86,500 in Canada.
The larger Tesla Model X, which uses a 100 kWh battery, starts at $114,700 in Canada.
Plugged into a regular 220-volt household system, the battery will take about seven hours to charge from 10 per cent to 80 per cent, or around 11 hours to charge to full. Plugged into a fast charger beside the highway, it will take less than an hour at most to fully charge.
"Depending on their exact pricing/spec, do the [electric SUVs] offer much advantage versus the inconvenience of having '30-minute fill-ups'? Likely not," Karwel says. "So the curious, and early adopters will be satiated quickly. Don't count out the internal combustion engine out just yet. The trend of downsized capacity-but-turbocharged gasoline engines has given them a boost in efficiency that is tough to beat when the total ownership experience is counted."
As for power and speed, the two motors create a claimed 402 hp and an enormous 564 lbs.-ft. of torque, which is good for acceleration from zero-to-100 km/h in just 5.1 seconds. More practically, this means it can tow up to 1,800 kg, though the driving range will surely suffer for it. Overall power consumption is rated at 22.2 kWh per 100 km in Europe.
The battery, at 650 kg, weighs more than a quarter of the total curb weight of the 2,245-kg vehicle and its 384 cells actually form part of the chassis, contained within a steel frame. Emergency rescue crews are wary of electric cars that have crashed, fearing electrocution if they cut through wires to release passengers, but the EQC will immediately stop charging if it senses an impact and will pull all its electricity back into the battery in less than a second.
The battery will be guaranteed for eight years, or 160,000 km.
Mercedes says the EQC was extensively tested in extreme conditions, from temperatures greater than 40 C in southern Spain to below minus-35 C in northern Sweden, and its engineers say that it's as capable as almost any other vehicle in the Mercedes lineup. It's quiet, too, with no noise from its motors and the added bonus of road sound being muffled by the battery beneath the passengers' feet.
However, we've been hearing about electric cars for a few years now and they always sound wonderful, but most buyers refuse to consider them unless they're priced similarly to conventionally powered vehicles. Very few electric cars are sold in provinces where there are no rebates because they're considerably more expensive, and now that Ontario's rebate program has been brought to a halt, it remains to be seen how attractive they are to buyers there.
The EQC is a very attractive vehicle, however. Its designers have gone out of their way to keep it clean and simple and sustainable.
More than 100 of its parts will be made from recycled materials.
Outside, it has a comparatively low roofline and fibre-optic light bars at the front and back that stretch the width of the car. For the first time, the large Mercedes star on the grille is illuminated at night, and the grille itself is blacked out for a contrasting effect. But why have a grille at all, if there's an electric motor under the hood that doesn't need cooling air from the slipstream? "It needs a face," says Robert Lesnik, the EQC's director of exterior design. "It doesn't matter if it needs air or not, but without a grille, it looks unnatural. A Mercedes will always deserve a grille."
Mercedes-Benz's EQC is the first of a planned 10 different all-electric vehicles in the EQ lineup.
MARK RICHARDSON/THE GLOBE AND MAIL