Mercedes Sets $41,450 Price for Small EV, To Match BMW
At this very moment, the only luxury pure electric car on the market is the Tesla Model S, which has a base price between $70,000 and $93,400. But that will change in a matter of months, when two new small luxury EVs enter the scene—the Mercedes B-Class Electric Drive and BMW i3. Yesterday, Mercedes announced a base price of $41,450 for its electric car. It’s not a coincidence that its price is nearly identical to the BMW i3. In its press materials, Mercedes lists the i3 as its “main competitor.”
With the price announcement, luxury car buyers who want an electric car—but not interested in the Model S’s full-size dimensions and price—can now pit two well appointed but more affordable EVs against one another. Well-heeled buyers who previously accepted the relatively humdrum interior quality provided by Japanese or American models, can step back up to German refinement.
Judging from my brief time behind the wheel of both cars, they will equally deliver the high level of handling and comfort expected from a BMW or Mercedes. Buyers will need to consider two main factors that separate the two choices: styling and the availability of a range-extending gas engine.
Whereas the B-Class uses a small car platform that will feel right at home in a Mercedes dealership, BMW produced a quirky carbon-fiber exterior design that hardly feels like a Bimmer. Discriminating buyers will have to make a decision whether or not they like the somewhat stubby futuristic look of the BMW i3. Some will and some won’t. But the transition to the electric Mercedes B-Class will be easier—mostly a downshift to a smaller than usual Mercedes vehicle with a hatchback. (Besides, Mercedes sales staff can point to the Tesla-sourced powertrain as a compelling point of distinction.)
It remains to be seen how sales of the BMW i3 will be sustained after the most enthusiastic early adopters receive their cars. The iconoclastic visual design, and barn door treatment, might be a hit or it could prove to be a problem; however, one of BMW’s innovations—the availability of a range-extending gas engine that essentially doubles driving range and allows for quick refueling—more than compensates for any stylistic misgivings, even as it adds about $4,000 to the cost.
Mercedes, like a lot of other car companies, likes to use the “no compromise” message in its marketing. But 85 miles of range expected from the B-Class Electric Drive is a real limitation. The i3 with the range-extender, while adding some level of internal combustion, removes those range concerns.
Luxury buyers want a beautiful car—not necessarily one that looks as Buck Rogers as the i3. Yet, at the end of the day, range has more impact on the practical daily experience of drivers. That gives an advantage to the i3 over the Mercedes small EV. Nonetheless, the fact that this choice exists at all is great for electric car buyers—one more sign that the market for zero emissions battery-powered vehicles is on the rise.
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