Just like computers that say “Intel Inside” perhaps Tesla Inside could have been a discrete badge adorning the first battery electric car by the German brand with the silver star.
Mercedes-Benz did not do that, but as it puts its B-Class Electric into the ring – with BMW’s i3 already gaining ground and selling very well – the ZEV-mandate-satisfying B-Class Electric is an expedient solution using Tesla components.
Unlike the BMW, the B-Class is a conventional car converted to EV status. Its maker saved money in its development and also hopes to imbue a coolness factor by installing Tesla-derived lithium ion battery pack, electric motor, on-board charger, and other components.
Mercedes (Daimler) was also until the last couple of weeks invested in Tesla and part of its early on collaboration included Tesla getting switchgear for its Model S and now Mercedes has a bit of Tesla running gear in its EV.
Size and spec-wise the B-Class is competitive with BMW’s EV, and prestige-wise, well, it is a Mercedes-Benz.
But BMW created a clean-sheet EV, brought in new levels of carbon-fiber reinforced plastic to make the purpose-built car the first of a new series intended to be sustainable and carry the company into the future.
By contrast, Mercedes hedged its bets, and its CEO Dieter Zetsche revealed the highly profitable automaker sees EVs as a money losing proposition as the industry ramps up.
“You can reasonably say that nobody today is making a battery-powered vehicle that’s economically viable in its own right,” said Zetsche at a media launch in Spain, Oct. 27. “Manufacturers will not see a return within a reasonable time on the billions they’re investing now.”
So, if it’s going to be expensive to build, might as well build it cheaper, right? And that’s where Tesla came in. The parts may have been profitably priced for Tesla – this was not stated, but was the case with Toyota’s also Tesla-supplied RAV4 EV – but Tesla did save M-B the expense of doing as much R&D itself.
Cool Factor Questioned
But unlike BMW’s EV, the Mercedes B-Class EV is almost indistinguishable from internal-combustion powered siblings except for some blue badging and other minor details.
How the market will respond remains to be seen, but what we’ve seen so far is the market resonates with automakers that are all in. Nissan and Tesla are being rewarded for not merely dipping their toes in the water, and their unique designs don’t hurt either.
Automotive News quoted Anjan Hemanth Kumar, an analyst for Frost & Sullivan Inc. in Bangalore who said EV buyers at this stage prefer funky designs like the Nissan Leaf or BMW i3 – which like them or not, they do stand out.
“For the identity of the customer, it’s very important to have a proper electric vehicle with a unique identity so they can differentiate themselves,” Kumar said. “You want to show off, just as a Ferrari driver wants to show off.”
That sounds pretty reasonable but we’d add Tesla does not look like some oddball look-I’m-green kind of creation and it is selling very well too.
Rather, it tries to beat the Ferraris – and Maseratis and Jaguars, etc. – at their own game.
But what ever the formula to compete in sales, Mercedes now has thrown its hat in the ring.
Analyst firm IHS Automotive predicts that just the pure-EV versions of the BMW i3 will sell two-to-one over Mercedes’ conservative bet through the rest of this decade.
Of course time will tell, but this is where things stand for Mercedes’ first EV enhanced with Tesla components.