|When Mercedes-Benz announced its first all-electric utility, the EQC400 4MATIC, the vehicle’s quoted range instantly generated controversy.
At first, the U.S. market spec sheet said the vehicle’s range was 200 miles, but the company clarified that the only official number was 450 km on the outgoing New European Driving Cycle. That translates to about 280 miles of range.
Given that the overly optimistic driving cycle test is being replaced with the Worldwide Harmonized Light Vehicles Test Procedure, resulting in a roughly 20 percent reduction in rated range and more closely resembling EPA results, it makes sense to expect the new range through the EPA will settle in between 200 and 220 miles, Mercedes’ initial estimate for the U.S. market.
That range has disappointed a lot of people, who thought the EQC400 was going to be a “Tesla killer,” going head-to-head with the 237-mile-range Tesla Model X 75D. The other competitor in this category, the Jaguar iPace, is rated at 240 miles.
After all, even nonpremium EVs such as the Hyundai Kona Electric and Kia Niro EV are expected to have more than 230 miles of range, while the Chevrolet Bolt is already rated at 238 miles. Assuming that drivers who buy electric vehicles are primarily concerned with how far they can drive before needing to recharge, it’s understandable that so many would perceive the EQC400 as uncompetitive from the start.
But what if range isn’t as important as it seems? Sure, anyone looking to replace a single gasoline-powered vehicle with a pure electric vehicle would want as much range as they could get. But few, if any, of the current crop of pricey, premium electric vehicles are likely to be a family’s only vehicle.
Given that the average American travels less than 40 miles per day, isn’t 200 miles of range enough?
Electric vehicles remain trapped by our traditional mental model for vehicles. For decades, advertising has built a vision of freedom provided by vehicles. We expect our cars to do anything, anywhere, anytime. This is one reason why crossovers and pickups remain so popular: American consumers prioritize ultimate capability over efficiency. We’d rather give up some fuel efficiency 90 percent of the time, commuting to and from work, in order to feel like we could at any time handle a scenario such as driving through snow or mud or going camping or skiing.
New technologies seem to favor a shift away from this mindset: apps that let you choose a taxi, bike rental and bus ticket all in one; subscription car leases; and autonomous shuttles will get consumers more accustomed to what analyst Horace Dediu calls “the unbundling of the car.” That’s where all of the tasks that a modern car is called on to accomplish are spread out so that each one can be accomplished more efficiently.
As this dynamic takes hold over time, today’s battles over electric vehicle range will begin to seem silly. Rather than trying to fit electric vehicles into the mental model we’ve built around gasoline cars, it will make more sense to use an electric vehicle with about 100 miles of range for most commuting and then supplement that with sports cars, crossovers, SUVs and pickups as needed.
In fact, that sounds like the perfect approach for a Mercedes subscription service.