Mercedes-Benz India has introduced the ‘EQ’ brand in India, with an intent to be a key EV player in the luxury vehicle space. CEO and Managing Director Martin Schwenk speaks about the company’s e-mobility strategy, what could be done to promote EVs in India, and how he and his team plan to keep Mercedes-Benz ahead in the luxury segment this year too.
What is the strategy behind the decision of introducing brand EQ, and the EQC, in India?
EQ is the new brand from Mercedes-Benz for everything electric, including mild hybrids, plug-in hybrids and full electric vehicles, which includes fuel cells or battery electric vehicles. The EQC is the product under the new EQ brand and the charging solution is the service that we intend to provide. We will commercially launch this vehicle in April this year. It is our first step towards our mission for 2025, where Mercedes-Benz looks to have about 15-25 percent of its overall global sales coming from electric vehicles. However, it would be difficult for Mercedes-Benz India to estimate anything for 2021 as it depends a lot on how the framework develops, infrastructure develops and how the customer demand develops. Currently, we are looking to get a first-hand experience in EVs in India and then continue sharpening the plans.
The new EQC fits the bill for someone who is in search of a luxury electric SUV or someone who wants to be an early adopter of a luxury electric SUV. We know that this will not carry the entire sales and we are looking into developing a broader portfolio.
What measures do you expect from the policymakers to improve the adoption of electric mobility and the well-to- wheel emission levels in the country? How will the luxury market benefit?
I believe the government has already done a lot, not only by talking about the need for change and electrification but also by implementing a GST scheme, which is quite supportive of pure electric vehicles and would definitely help develop the industry. Further development of the infrastructure is important for the electrification of large portfolios, leading to wider acceptance. Plug-in hybrid vehicles need to be supported well as this would create more momentum for electric mobility. Customers need to be educated about the benefits and the dealers need to approach the idea more. Daimler is going to have almost 10 models by 2022 globally.
With 96 outlets in 48 cities, Mercedes-Benz has the largest network strength for any luxury carmaker in India. This is the Benchmark Cars dealership in Kolkata.
What is the perception about EVs in the luxury car market and what is the potential for such EVs?
Many of our customers will have the possibility to set up a wall box in their homes or in their office. A car with a range of 470km under the testing cycle would have a real-life figure of 350 to 380km, which would definitely tackle the range anxiety.
We also realise that not everyone would have the luxury of their own parking spot. We need to set up something at the public scale also. For an even broader adoption, we would need a broader deployment of infrastructure.
With a wall box, you have at least a reasonable charging speed for a couple of hours. We do need fast charge and that is certainly something that cannot be done at many customers' homes because then there will also be a question as to how the electricity grid will be able to deal with it. So that is becoming a bigger concern with regard to the infrastructure in India.
Would you look at partnerships with EV charging infrastructure providers, and what about skilling the sales network?
We are moving forward progressively, starting with the metro areas. We would also train and station qualified first sales and aftersales personnel in those areas. In terms of infrastructure, as a luxury manufacturer, we do not have the footprint to be able to push the infrastructure across India. That would be a completely different business model, and so far we are not in the business of selling electricity or selling wall boxes. Our focus will remain on the end user.
You have the EQA at the entry level end and the EQS as a concept model. Could you tell us about the possible EV spectrum at Mercedes-Benz?
There will be something across the entire line-up and at the global level most of these products are developed, prepared or already ready for deployment and our decisions are mostly driven by what the market needs are. We will look into what India needs, what we think will make us successful in India, what our customers would want and then based on that we will take the decisions. I believe that this would really help us and by then, it would help other players in the industry as well. We will surely have other cars and will complete the line-up in India.
Business in the automotive industry is still slow and sales volumes remain in negative territory. When do you expect to see a turnaround?
It is very hard to predict but some of the uncertainties will end with the transition to BS VI. We are aiming for a new car every month. We have just launched the GLE and there are many other cars lined up for the year. A lot of SUVs and our entry segment will see quite a lot of activity later in the year. This also gives me a lot of optimism that the momentum that we had seen in the last 3-4 months will be carried forward and, by the end of 2020, we would definitely post a better figure than in 2019. We will work on the entire portfolio and not just the entry level. You will see a lot of SUVs and you will see a lot of exciting things in the entry C segment from Mercedes-Benz India.