When a company says their aspiration (and it’s not an unrealistic goal given their heritage) is to present the “best automobile in the world” and that model is highlighted by not only traditional gasoline-powered versions, but also a highly efficient diesel, a gas-electric hybrid and a new diesel-electric hybrid, that is significant.
We’re talking about the new 2014 Mercedes-Benz S-Class, which has just been previewed to the media in a high-profile event. The car is held to epitomize the luxury brand that is Mercedes. The company wants to hold it up worldwide as the standard other aspirants have to reach toward. In that preview Mercedes made a point of highlighting the environmental achievements of the new model, waxing eloquent about it:
“The S-Class is so efficient that it almost sounds utopian: within ten years Mercedes-Benz, by realizing ‘Efficient Technology’, has almost halved fuel consumption in the 150 kW output category to 4.4 liters per 100 kilometers.” To translate from European tech speak, that means it is now going to be offering a 200 horsepower engine that gets 54.5 mpg. That engine will be the diesel-electric hybrid featured in the new S300 BlueTEC Hybrid. That model will join a variety of powertrain choices ranging from traditional (though very sophisticated and efficient) gasoline V-8s and V-12s, a clean diesel V-6, a V-6 gas hybrid and a some even more high-performance gas engines under the AMG banner.
Another S Is Heard From
But at least one non-traditional luxury aspirant may have already beat Mercedes to the punch by presenting one focused model that is a pure electric–the Tesla Model S. It now may make the German automaker play catch up since in the first third of the year in the U.S. market, Tesla’s S outsold the older model Mercedes S.
While Mercedes offers a choice of powertrains in its sixth generation of its flagship car. (One more than its current lineup of gas, gas-electric hybrid and diesels, but the gas models are the overwhelming choice of purchasers–with only about 4% taking the alternative route so far this year.) With Tesla, your choice is just of the size of the battery pack (most of its early purchasers are opting for the larger packs, which offer a longer range) and then the usual color and option choices. The sales tally for the first third of the year showed Tesla making a strong statement with 6,850 sold (an estimate since the company doesn’t release monthly sales totals) compared to the S-Class’ 4,180 for all of its different iterations.
Two Types of Deep Dives Into Luxury
Both the Mercedes and Tesla offer a deep dive into luxury, which of course comes at a price. Mercedes models currently start at $92,350 (prices for the 2014 models haven’t been announced). While the Model S technically is available starting at $62,400, Tesla said recently that so few people are ordering that entry-level model that they are not going to build it any more. They added that anyone who ordered that model would actually get the mid-level battery pack model (which retails for $10,000 more), but with software that would limit its range and output. At any rate Tesla has said that the majority of its sales so far have been the high-end models, usually retailing for around $100,000 according to the company’s first quarter 2013 financial statement.
The competition between Mercedes and Tesla becomes more interesting when you realize that Mercedes parent company Daimler AG is an investor and customer (Tesla supplies technology for the Mercedes B-Class EV). But the blending of competition and cooperation is becoming more pronounced as the automobile industry searches for new ways to cut costs and preserve margins as the technology to increase fuel economy and reduce emissions adds expense to vehicles.
So the traditional automaker offers choice to its customers while the upstart bets on one power source–electricity. The early returns for the year show the newcomer charging ahead, but this is a long race and one being fought on a worldwide stage. Both automakers are looking to that international market as key to success during the coming years–Daimer/Mercedes as its models seek more sales in the growing Chinese limo class and Tesla as it expands to overseas deliveries of its Model S. We’ll keep tallying the score as this unfolds.
Other related stories you might find interesting:
The Top 10 Electric Cars You Can Buy–Finally
The Top 10 Best-Selling High-MPG Cars of 2013
VW Plans to Build Highest MPG Car