LOS ANGELES — Mercedes-Benz plans to roll out 10 electric vehicles by 2022, beginning with a battery-powered compact crossover to arrive in the U.S. early next year.
But developing the market for the technology in the U.S. will be a challenge initially, Mercedes' new U.S. boss, Nicholas Speeks, told Automotive News at the Los Angeles Auto Show.
"There is no huge natural demand for electric vehicles in the United States," said Speeks, who most recently ran Mercedes' business in China. "People are perhaps a little bit hesitant in going away from something that they have known for the last 130 years with the combustion engine. There's some anxiety about range — where am I going to charge it, and how does it work?"
But putting Americans behind the wheel of EVs will go a long way in helping sell them, the cravat-wearing Briton said in his first series of media interviews. "Experience will help us," Speeks said. "Getting cars on the road, having people speak from experience about electric cars will be helpful."
For EVs to have broader consumer appeal, he said, they must be marketed on performance, not just their green credentials.
"It's very much a question of — can we present the cars not necessarily in terms of the environmental impact, which is important, but because they're just great cars?" Speeks said.
EVs as "fun to drive" is the message Mercedes hopes to deliver with its debut EQ model. The 402-hp, dual-motor EQC has a range of about 280 miles, based on European emission standards, and is capable of a 0-to-60-mph sprint in 4.8 seconds.
"We will have a range of cars which are appealing not solely by virtue of the fact that they have this alternate drivetrain, but by virtue of the fact that they are great cars," Speeks said. "We will gradually ramp up, and we will make sure that we are positioning those cars at a point where people can afford them."
The EQC starts at $68,895, including shipping, and will be available nationwide at launch. Mercedes expects about 60 percent of early demand for the EQC to come from the West Coast.