Mercedes-Benz unveils the new EQS sedan, its flagship electric car

Mercedes-Benz, the inventor of the modern automobile, is dead serious about electric vehicles. The German brand’s battery-powered EQS sedan, unveiled on Thursday, is here to stamp its mark of quality.

Expected to cost easily over $100,000, the flagship EQ model will spearhead the brand’s electric push into the U.S. market when it arrives in showrooms around the end of August.

For that sum, the car comes with a Tesla-beating range, a futuristic interior that looks straight out of a spaceship, and all the comfort and convenience one expects from a Mercedes.

The Stuttgart-based carmaker, a unit of Daimler AG, touted the car’s “perfect balance” between performance, efficiency, range, and ease of charging, along with a progressive styling that sets it apart from any other vehicle it sells.

“The EQS is designed to exceed the expectations of even our most demanding customers,” said chief executive Ola Källenius in a statement.

Up to now, the Tesla Model S has largely been in a class of its own. Only a brand as revered as Porsche was able to generate the same buzz with its Taycan, a battery-powered sports sedan that eschewed long ranges in favor of record lap times and blistering recharge speeds.

This is all likely to change with the EQS: a direct competitor to the new Tesla Model S Plaid performance sedan and the first Mercedes to be built from the ground up as an electric vehicle.

Doors that open automatically upon approach welcome the driver into an interior dominated by a futuristic “hyperscreen”: Three large, organically shaped displays made out of curved aluminum silicate glass meld into one seamless panel and stretch the full length of the 141cm (55.5-inch) dashboard.

Underway, the driver can count on a European-certified range of up to 770 kilometers (478 miles) on one charge. This is thanks to a next-generation battery with a usable 107.8 kilowatt-hour capacity and a shape so slippery that it cuts through the wind easier than a Tesla Model 3 despite its size. With the lowest drag coefficient of any series production model, Mercedes calls it the most aerodynamic car ever built.

Thanks to wireless “over the air” software updates to the energy management system, the range can potentially be upgraded over time via the cloud just like a Tesla. The EQS can also be 80% recharged in 31 minutes at stations that offer 200 kW fast charging.

So far the brand’s attempts to offer a battery-powered vehicle have been sophomoric and half-hearted, unworthy of a company that has defined the industry ever since it built the first car over a century ago.

The Mercedes EQC that hit markets in summer 2019 is a case in point. To improve the model’s chances of earning a decent return, it was deliberately positioned to strike at the sweet spot of the premium market: the high-volume midsize segment where the overall opportunity for profits are the highest and wrapped in the lucrative packaging of a popular SUV.

Instead, it was mocked by enthusiasts for its unimpressive performance, the U.S. launch was postponed indefinitely, and it managed sales of a mere 20,000 units last year. The car didn’t merit so much as a mention in the entire 250 page–plus annual report, not even a footnote.

Mercedes won’t comment on its volume aspirations for the EQS, yet by choosing a price category only few of its affluent customers can afford, they are likely to be in the tens of thousands, like its combustion engine equivalent, the S-Class. It serves, however, as a halo car, whose radiance is supposed to shine down on lower-segment vehicles bought by consumers who cannot aspire to own the luxury electric sedan.

All told, Mercedes is launching four battery-powered models this year, including a smaller sibling to the EQS, dubbed the EQE. Together with another two models following in 2022, they will help the brand in its goal of achieving over half of its global sales from fully electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids by 2030.

The market is still wide open with plenty of upside potential over the current decade. Investment bank Jefferies estimates the global share of battery electric vehicles sold new this year will edge up nearly one percentage point to 3.6%, driven by demand in the European Union, where the mix will reach 8.3% versus just 2% for the U.S.

“Our electric initiative is in full swing. With the EQE business sedan and the SUV variants of the EQS and EQE, further models based on the new [battery-powered vehicle] architecture will follow soon,” said Christoph Starzynski, vice president and the chief engineer behind the car’s development.

The EQS is already the second major debut of a battery electric vehicle from a German premium brand this week. On Wednesday, Audi pulled the tarp off its Q4 e-tron, a volume-chasing compact crossover.

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