Inside Project EQ: how Mercedes plans to electrify its future

Published: 05 October 2016

► Project EQ: the future of Mercedes’ mobility
► EVs, autonomous driving and lots of sharing
► Why a quarter of Mercs will be electric

Mercedes-Benz issued one of the most significant announcements at the recent Paris motor show: its EQ concept car – a pointer to a new generation of electric cars and a harbinger of a whole new way of owning and driving cars bearing the three-pointed star.

The EQ is ‘very close’ to the new GLC-sized electric crossover due in showrooms in 2018. But it’s the thinking behind it, as much as the actual product itself, that’s noteworthy. 

Daimler’s move has echoes of BMW’s Project i, which is siring a whole generation of EVs over in Munich.

Why EQ is significant for Mercedes-Benz

The Generation EQ concept shows the first in a series of new electric Mercs. Marketing chief Jens Thiemer took time out from the French show to explain the thinking behind the electric car project.

The Mercedes-Benz Generation EQ at the Paris motor show

‘These new cars are purpose-designed; they will not be existing cars,’ he told CAR, pointing to the crisp style pioneered by the EQ pictured above.

‘This concept car is called Generation EQ because we want to say it’s a whole family coming.’

How realistic is the styling?

‘The model you see here is very close to the first electric production car. You will see it in 2018… and the price will be comparable to a top-end GLC.’

That GLC crossover reference is pertinent; the EQ has similar proportions, but with a slicker, more modernist vibe. Pop on production door handles, wheels, lights and interior, and you can easily imagine this sliding into dealer showrooms. And unlike BMW's posh supermini and racy sports car, Merc is planning to launch its sub-brand with a vogueish crossover. 

Jens Thiemer: the marketing chief at Mercedes-Benz for the EQ project

The front end is especially striking. Why the distinct face? ’We have to bring something new to market,’ says Thiemer (above). ‘We have to electrify the design too. We think the front end is a very strong signal of our intent.’

A top-down rethink of Mercedes motoring

The EQ project is much more than just this one car. It’s part of a new strategy dubbed CASE - encapsulating ‘the four megatrends transforming our industry.’ They are:

C: Connected Cars are communicating car-to-car and to the wider world
A: Autonomous Driverless cars are coming and will remove drudgery of driving
S: Sharing An Uber model will allow cars’ usage to increase hugely
E: Electric Battery power will become the norm in crowded city spaces

This mantra will underpin everything Mercedes-Benz does in the new era of electromobility. It’s a future in which Merc EVs are increasingly shared, with membership clubs and pay-by-the-hour availability for owners who might borrow a hybrid car for longer journeys and a pure EV for the final miles into town.

‘We see the end of ownership among people in metropolitan parts of the world,’ according to Thiemer. ‘They want to rent cars by the kilometre instead.’

The electrical hardware underpinning EQ

‘Distribution will be different too. We will not exclude our dealers but there will be a proportion of online sales.’ Expect to be buying, or more likely leasing, Mercs on your phone sooner rather than later.

Crucially, the car and its applications are at the heart of users’ digital lives. ‘The car becomes the digital device,’ argues Thiemer. ’Our services must be completely integrated with it.’

For Mercedes, connected cars will club together to spot empty parking spaces and communicate that data back out to the ecosystem. 'Finding a parking space can take 10-15 minutes on each journey today,' says Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche. 'Not in a connected future.'

The boss envisages a world in which Mercedes apps and services power a new sharing economy. 'Cars are not used for 23 hours a day on average. Why not use them for peer-to-peer car sharing?... It could be like AirBnB for cars!'

It's no pipe-dream. Mercedes will launch a P2P trial in Germany in November 2016.

The future's bright, the future's electric

Mercedes’ electric adventure started some years ago, and spans everything from Smart to the biggest plug-in S-classes. Thiemer reckons it’ll take a good three years to establish the EQ brand, but says that process is well underway. ‘We will have 10 PHEVs [plug-in hybrid electric vehicles] by 2017.’

And a full range of EQ family members, all bespoke electric models? ‘Within five years we will have a whole family,’ the marketing chief tells CAR. ‘By 2025, 15-25% of the Mercedes range will be fully electric. Add in PHEVs, and they’ll make up 50% of our range.’

You’d better believe it: the electric revolution is coming. 'The car is no longer just a platform,' adds Zetsche. 'It's a platform.' Expect conventional wisdom to be turned upside down...

Click here for more news from the 2016 Paris motor show

By Tim Pollard

Editorial director of CAR's digital publishing arm. Motoring news magnet