LONDON (REUTERS) - Daimler AG on Thursday (April 15) unveiled the electric "sibling" of its flagship Mercedes-Benz S-Class luxury sedan, taking the fight to market-leader Tesla Inc in the battle for market share as electric car sales take off.
The EQS is the first in a family of Mercedes-Benz cars built on a dedicated electric vehicle platform built from the ground up. It will go on sale in Europe and the United States in August, then in China in January.
Sales of electric and plug-in hybrid cars in the European Union almost trebled to over 1 million vehicles last year, accounting for more than 10 per cent of overall sales.
"We set the bar very high," with this car, Daimler Chief Executive Ola Källenius told reporters. "Customers in this segment expect a blend of hi-tech innovation and modern luxury... and that's what we're trying to achieve with the EQS."
Daimler has not revealed pricing yet for the EQS, saying that will come in the summer closer to the launch date.
In interviews and conference calls on Thursday Källenius avoided making any comparisons with Tesla, whose market cap of more than US$700 billion (S$934 billion) dwarfs all other carmakers.
But with a range of up to 770 kilometres and a new display screen that will cover almost the entire dashboard - an optional feature - analysts see an effort to seize the initiative from Tesla, which had a head start over other carmakers and boasted a longer battery range and hallmark touchscreen infotainment system.
In a client note earlier this week, Deutsche Bank referred to the EQS as "Mercedes' Tesla fighter" and said the car "will likely set the benchmark in terms of technical features, as well as design and quality," for both traditional carmakers and newer entrants like Tesla.
Källenius said he expects more than 50% of customers will pay extra to get the display screen, which Mercedes-Benz unveiled in January.
At 56 inches (142 cm) the new "Hyperscreen" - which in width dwarfs Tesla's vaunted 17-inch screen - will also feature in Mercedes-Benz's other new electric models.
Källenius said the company would not provide forecasts for how many EQS models it aims to sell, or what sort of profit margins he expected the vehicle to generate.
But he said he had high expectations for the Chinese market, where there is "tremendous demand" for the traditional combustion engine S-Class model.
Daimler now joins rival Volkswagen AG with a dedicated electric platform. BMW will launch a dedicated platform in 2025.
Mercedes sales chief Britta Seeger said the launch of the EQS coincides with demand for electric vehicles that is growing faster than company executives once forecast.
"We thought by 2030 that half of our sales will be electric vehicles" and plug-in hybrid vehicles, Seeger said during a conference call. "What we currently see... is a stronger request of customers for EVs. We are even more positive that this jump can be a little bit faster."