But the irony of this pragmatic faster-to-market strategy is that it’s liable to slow down the overall pace of innovation. With electric cars, there’s an enormous space for creativity when it comes to figuring how many motors to use, how powerful they need to be, and where to position them. The engineering layout of an EV is vastly more flexible than that of a combustion-engine car. And yet, Mercedes is opting to stick to what’s already working.
There’s a certain degree of real-world skeuomorphism going on with electric car designs. Batteries need cooling, yes, but an EV doesn’t strictly require a front grille (as evidenced by the Tesla Model 3). I asked Hermann about this, and he reiterated the point that car companies — or his company, at least — have to give consumers something familiar. Electric drive is the future, there’s a total consensus about that at the Paris Motor Show, but getting there will need to be done in incremental steps that don’t alienate the end customer. That’s also probably why the power sockets on most EVs are in about the same places and covered by the same flaps as fuel caps of yore.
Audi’s E-tron SUV follows almost the exact same formula as Mercedes-Benz’s EQC. It’s roughly the same size, has a big prominent grille and enlarged air intakes at the front, and its taillights are a big band of red that spans the width of the car. They’re both similar to each and every SUV already on the market. Both Audi and Mercedes are opting to start electrifying their portfolios with SUVs because that’s by far the most popular type of car that people buy. Both are playing it safe.