As Mercedes' top-end EV, the EQS will focus its sales strategy on exclusivity and profitability, rather than volume.
"We're not going to push the car into the market," Källenius said. "It's very much pull. The essence of luxury is build one less than demand."
But it is still a gamble. By not coming out of the gate with a crossover, Mercedes could miss the "liftoff point in EV volume," said Jeff Schuster, president of global forecasting at LMC Automotive.
"While other brands are building on a limited but existing lineup by moving into EV crossovers and SUVs that are more targeted at the mainstream market where consumers are interested, the EQS is a niche within a niche," Schuster said.
But the EQS wasn't Mercedes' first choice for the U.S. Like other automakers, Mercedes planned to debut its electric line with a compact crossover — the EQC. That would have been a logical play: Premium compact crossover sales climbed 20 percent in the U.S. through March, accounting for 21.6 percent of the U.S. luxury market.
But the EQC was not good enough to wow American luxury buyers, Mercedes concluded. Its relatively anemic driving range could have made it a tough sell in a market already skeptical about EV practicality. Powered by an 80-kilowatt-hour battery, the EQC has a roughly 290-mile range on a full charge, based on the New European Driving Cycle testing standard.
The EQC wasn't Mercedes' "best representation in terms of range and performance, so they didn't want to come to this market with it," Aiosa said.
But even with the EQS delivering new attention to the old brand, Mercedes will still need a fleet of competitive crossovers and SUVs to compete in the EV world.
"We're certainly not going to do the volumes with the EQS that will get us into a dominant position in the EV market," Aiosa said. "We look to next year to have more U.S. market-focused product to drive volume."
Next year, Mercedes-Benz will bring up to three battery-electric utility vehicles and an electric midsize sedan to the U.S., sources have told Automotive News.
"With the product offering that is in the pipeline, we're definitely going to expand the pie," Källenius said. "With regard to the luxury end of the market, in the segments where we're present, we want to get our fair share."