Buyers lining up for Mercedes-Benz's new EQC electric SUV
JOLTED into action by the success of Tesla at home and abroad, luxury manufacturers are on the cusp of offering their own battery-powered vehicles in Australia.
Mercedes-Benz showed off its new EQC electric SUV in Melbourne ahead of the Australian Grand Prix, importing a pre-production prototype to drum up interest in the electric machine.
Without giving specifics, Benz says hundreds of customers have paid deposits for an electric SUV combining 300kW of power with 450 kilometres of range and the ability to reach 100km/h in five seconds.
Mercedes spokeswoman and electric vehicle expert Claire Painter says many of those orders come from people who want their first electric car to be a Benz.
"A lot of people were existing Mercedes-Benz customers," she says.
"People have been saying 'we have been waiting for Mercedes Benz to do it because we love Mercedes Benz, we know the quality will be there'."
Karl Scheible, the man in charge of the EQC's test program, says Mercedes spent two years perfecting the refinement of its new model.
"The noise, vibration and harshness elements of electric vehicles are central to the development of the car," he says.
"In a normal car you have the transmission, a normal engine with four or six cylinders. But you have no noises from all of these things and no exhaust pipe."
Naturally, that means the EQC is much quieter than a regular petrol or diesel Mercedes. But it also means any cabin rattles or underbody creaks are effectively amplified without the camouflage of background noise normally taking place in an electric vehicle.
A special cradle for the car's electric hardware with two sets of rubber dampeners helps minimise the transmission of electric whine into the cabin, while acoustic glass on the windscreen and side windows further reduces wind and road noise.
Riding shotgun in the EQC at a go kart track in Melbourne, it's clear that the machine is much quieter than most luxury cars. Production models should be even better than this example, which recently finished hot weather testing in Africa.
Scheible says other Mercedes models will benefit from lessons learned while developing the EQC, which required more than 450 prototypes and 2.5 million kilometres of testing - double that of a regular vehicle.
The EQC can be charged at home overnight using a 7.2kW AC wall charger, while road trips are made possible by 110kW DC units capable of giving the car an 8- per cent charge in 40 minutes. Like many brands, Mercedes has partnered with the Chargefox EV network to give customers options on the road.
Painter says electric vehicles are "going to have a big impact" sooner, rather than later.
"A couple of people have said to me 'what will the charging infrastructure or the industry look like in 10 years' time?', I think the more important question is 'what will it look like in three or five years' time', because things will change so quickly," she says.
"We are expecting about seven new models to market in the next couple of years - by 2023.
"The aim is to have something in a range of segments that gives people choice."
The Mercedes EQC arrives around October.
It will be joined by Audi's first electric car in Australia, the e-tron SUV which brings similar size and performance to the segment in the second half of 2019.
Both cars are expected to sit in the upper end of the $100,000 to $150,000 space.
Like Mercedes, Audi is working on a range of models including a sporty e-tron GT coupe and a smaller SUV in the Q4 e-tron which brings 225kW of power and 450km of range.
Though Mercedes and Audi have landed e-tron examples for local validation and marketing purposes, Jaguar beat them to the punch with the launch of its electric I-Pace SUV in December.
The British marque's first electric model is on sale from $119,000, bringing 294kW of power and around 470km of electric range.
Electric vehicles aren't new to BMW, which already offers the quirky i3 hatchback, as well as the plug-in hybrid i8 supercar and electrified versions of bread-and-butter models such as the 5 Series and X5.
It will take the fight to Audi and Tesla with a new iX3 electric SUV with more than 400 kilometres of electric range in 2020.
BMW Australia managing director Vikram Pawah says people will soon have a good number of electric vehicles to choose from.
Range anxiety is often cited as a major problem slowing the take-up of electric vehicles, even if it is not a daily reality for the vast majority of drivers.
"The next stage is about customer awareness and we all have responsibility to change that awareness," Pawah told reporters this week.
"A lot of people won't know that the average daily commute is only 32 kilometres.
"A lot of people get shocked when you say that."
Porsche's Tesla-fighting Taycan sedan takes a different approach to the American brand.
Rather than equipping the machine with the biggest battery it can build, Porsche put its efforts into faster charging hardware.
Porsche says its contender can accept electricity at a 350kW charge rate allowing the car to receive an 80 per cent charge (or 400 kilometres of range) in just 15 minutes, as long as the infrastructure is in place to do so.
The sports car manufacturer's chief executive told Australian reporters at the Geneva Motor show last week the approach resulted in "very good feedback from customers".
"We have around about around 20,000 pre-orders already and we are very happy about it because customers haven't seen the car," he said.
Porsche's first year of Taycan production has effectively sold out. Local interest in the vehicle eclipses any previous model, including the 911 sports car or Macan and Cayenne SUVs.
Blume said the Taycan serves as the entree to tasty possibilities for electric vehicles.
"Today we work with liquid batteries," he said.
"In future the biggest opportunity we see in solid batteries - solid state. But we have to wait until about 2025.
"These batteries will have a big advantage for distance. In the future we will be able to provide 1000 kilometres (of range), the weight is 30 per cent less of the batteries of today and also you can go up to 99 per cent of recycling."