Mercedes needs to do a complete 180 to become an electric car manufacturer. Employees with education and years of experience in internal combustion engines will fight their obsolescence. Plants and production lines that are specialized for ICE manufacturing will buck against the change. Their supply chain, dealerships, and repair shops will have the same problems and will also provide resistance.
It's one thing to pivot a little start-up company that's maybe a few dozen people who have just been applying generic engineering and sales techniques to a domain that they've only just invented in the past year or two. A behemoth like Mercedes does not pivot. It trundles along and slowly, almost imperceptibly, shifts course over a long period of time.
Mercedes needs a lot more horsepower for the battle than Tesla does.
Their distribution, dealer network, marketing, etc. is in place world-wide and very well established.
But I maintain that the primary focus of an automotive manufacturer is their powertrain. This is evidenced by the outsourcing of many of those other components, and by the relative budgets given to those different R&D departments. Furthermore, the other departments have become tightly coupled to the powertrain: The chassis is largely designed around the engine bay, not a large battery and electric motor. Engine braking is barely an afterthought in the design of the brakes, and regenerative braking changes a lot of that design. Auxiliary systems like entertainment, power steering, air conditioning, etc. have the existence of an alternator and serpentine belt as a fundamental principle.
Whether it's 180 or 90 degrees, it's still a difficult change for a big company.
The VW Group re-uses the same engines across lots of its different brands - for a high-performance or electric car then of course the powertrain is important. For everything else its just one component and as long as it is good enough I suspect people aren't really that interested.
Edit: Other manufacturers may do this, I'm just more familiar with VW Group cars.
They all reuse components and designs as much as possible:
I think the grand-parent comment is vastly overestimating how much of the car business these days is based on tuning the internal combustion engine, which for the most part has seen about all of the advances it is going to see. The rock stars of the car world are now the process and manufacturing guys (and possibly the software guys, though not as much as you'd hope or expect), who still have the power to squeeze the margins tighter than any other engineering division does, and provide more competitive advantage than any other engineering division does.
Electric motors are commodity items that can easily be thrown onto most chassis. Why does Elon Musk always make such a big deal about not having patents? Mostly because he doesn't have any sexy patents to trot out anyways so its good PR fluff.
I think Tesla can survive and thrive, and break the 100 year drought in new car companies, but I think it's a mistake to think that's because they are going to out maneuver car companies at the car game, it's because they are becoming battery experts that they'll win. Tesla is a battery company with a car division.
Yes, but it is all built around selling the ICE as the ultimate driving machine. To compete with Tesla, the entire marketing machine will have to be reworked in such a way as to imply that their previous flagships are now legacy.
That is a bitter pill and will face much internal political resistance, regardless of the technical issues involved.
>> Yes, but it is all built around selling the ICE as the ultimate driving machine.
That... doesn't really make any sense. A Tesla and a Mercedes are literally indistiguishable from each other on the basis of their powertrain. They both look the same and have the same function and work the same.
If I modified a Tesla to ICE and it was your next Uber ride you would not really be able to tell the difference unless you were closely paying attention, and vice versa. Yes there are some performance differences and sound differences, sort of, but from a functional perspective they're both just luxury cars, outside of refueling the user experience is exactly the same.
Sure, it's an engineering challenge, but the idea that the dealer network and marketing don't apply equally well to electric cars is totally unsupported. In fact, the luxury car marketing experience is so similar across the board that you just used the BMW slogan to describe Mercedes Benz.
If you modified a P100D to use a Mercedes drivetrain, the car would feel slower and would launch like an ICE car. The feeling of initial acceleration in an all-electric performance car like the P100D is vastly different. Maybe you wouldn't notice from the backseat of a taxi, but that isn't really the point in selling a performance car. :)
But even that doesn't really matter as much as you might think. I think the fundamental issue is that you appear to be using engineer thinking and are thinking about the situation from a purely logical framework. Buyers in the real world don't behave that way and the romance copy and image that a company sells really does matter in the marketplace.
Classic camera nerd here.
True, true, but mostly down to:
a) the Japanese government helping optical and camera companies share technologies, instead of Germany where patent protection makes german camera companies do hard competition against each other and find all kinds of workarounds to prevent patent infrigement from the other brand.
b) REALLY bad business decisions (for example, Zeiss-Ikon-Voigtlander at some point had something like 3 or 4 incompatible different lens mounts for their 35mm camera range)
c) the Japanese making stuff cheaper because less labor costs, unions, etc
d) Also, due to WWII war reparations, Russia and Japan 'inherit' all optical patents and designs from Zeiss germany which helps them build their optical (and camera) industry as quick as possible.
e) German companies not foreseeing the japanese menace / not doing anything about it.
Great website and article about this:
(use Google translate)
And yes, I completely made up that idea of German cars on Belgian batteries, just for the sake of historical analogy. But then I googled a bit and it turns out that Belgium, per capita, already has the biggest chemical industry worldwide. It might actually be a perfect match.
At a casual glance it appears that the real genuinely thorny problem with EV production is coming up with a workable battery system and producing it at scale. Which to be sure is challenging and Tesla has a head start, but it's still just a component in a much larger supply and production chain.
I'm not convinced an electric four door sedan is "more different" from a current gas four door sedan than a diesel cargo van is, and the company is adept at producing both of those. It's not obvious that figuring out how to make a reasonable electric car factory in Bavaria is more of a stretch for the company than building SUV's the American south.
These successful integrated car companies already adapt a lot as it is. The idea that they just don't have it in them to swap out a gas engine for some batteries and motors doesn't really match reality as far as I can tell.
Before Tesla, Mercedes is/was historically the manufacturer that spent the most amount of R&D.
> Employees with education and years of experience in internal combustion engines will fight their obsolescence.
Do you realize making a great car is not only just about the engine? Mercedes has the best engineers in the world regarding the other parts of the automobile - suspension, brakes, steering, reliability, safety, etc.
This! There is an incredible amount of people (and contractors) whos life depends on building components of ICE cars around these companies. They'll fight tooth and nail to keep those profits from dwindling even if that'll doom them in the long run. The amount of internal politics must be staggering and IMO is the main reason why all EV attempts from these companies are so awful - they literaly look like someone tried to sabotage each and every one of those projects.
That said, I'm not expecting GM to set an aggressive EV pace either such as VW's 2030 goal, but they do expect to be the first to high volume electric vehicle sales .
Unlike Mercedes or VW, which are responding to market demands, GM only showboated electric vehicles as a way of staying in bounds or gaining favors politically. GM has made virtually no effort at bringing competitive hybrid or full-electric drivetrains to their mainstream models, and they probably wont even consider it until it's bailout time again.
GM branding seems to want to continue to imply that their electric vehicles are better than their "mainstream models"; showboating is marketing. GM has also said (per the link above) that they expect to have the first "mainstream" electric in the ways the car industry would define it (high volume, reasonable profits). GM isn't just now responding to "market demands" because they anticipated them years ago, and in some ways have been working to create those market demands that Mercedes and VW are just now feeling.
VW, on the other hand, also is responding to the American polity. The US has graciously allowed VW to use the fines the EPA should have charged for "dieselgate" to instead go (and only go) to electric vehicle development.
ICE cars will be banned (either already law, or being discussed) in: Norway (2025), Netherlands (2025), India (2030), Germany (maybe 2030), France (2040), China (date unknown yet).
But if it wasn't for these factors, there would be no competition, only annihilation. It's remarkable that there's competition at all. When multiple members of the competition can restructure their R&D budget on a whim to allocate more than your entire company is worth, you need systematic advantages like this to stay in business!
Until they have a fast charging option like Tesla's, then all the other auto makers will be "also rans" in my opinion. Case in point: The Chevy Bolt is, on paper, a Tesla Model 3 killer. It is cheaper, has better range, and it is available now. However, there is no way to charge it on a road trip (unless you're a masochist, and want to depend on flaky 3rd party charging networks where the chargers might not work, or might charge slowly). So, because of this, Chevy can't unload the cars, and have so much inventory built up that they've idled the Bolt production line.
And don't say "fast charging is only important for road trips." One of the barriers holding back EV adoption in cities is the lack of charging options for apartment and condo dwellers. At home charging mostly depends on having a garage that you own, and that you can have a charger or 40A outlet installed in. Good luck getting a landlord to do that, and if you have street parking, you're totally hosed. Tesla recognized this, and is now opening Superchargers in urban areas in advance of the model 3 being generally available.
To me, when EVs are ready for mainstream use, the charging infrastructure will be there. I got a Volt because unless tying yourself to a supercharger is an option, or you own your home and can install an L2 charger, the infrastructure isn't yet where it needs to be for mainstream adoption
Right now, there are a lot of people who will only get a Tesla for the above reasons. That gives them better market share, and allows them to command a bit of a premium for their cars.
Medium term, I'd be willing to bet that they start to make deals to let other auto manufacturers use their superchargers. This would cement their lead in charging, and they might be able to make some revenue from this.
Longer term, there will have to be a fast charging network from somebody, especially if Tesla does not open up their supercharging network. I'm really shocked that one or more of the big gasoline companies has not gotten on board with this. They make a lot of their money from the various stuff they sell in addition to gas (food, trinkets, etc). EV "fast" charging is still an order of magnitude slower than gas/diesel refueling, so people will be spending a lot more time in their stores. This should drive up their profit.
Electric cars need a battery tech that offers a "refuel experience" if they want to change the game. Ive seen things like solid battery tech that may offer something close to this. Im not anywhere near an expert on battery tech, but I can say as a car guy that mainstream adoption hinges on this. Once this battery tech exists, then there is the infrastructure problem of charging stations. Musk has started the process, but there is a very long way to go. We also should start thinking about standardizing or at least categorizing charging levels in an ELI5 way to the average user. Maybe this already exists, but I dont think so. It seems like you need to have something like:
Level 1 charge(cheaper, lower power throughput, longer wait time).
Level 2 charge(quicker charge more expensive).
Level 3 charge(fastest, most expensive, if your car supports it, etc)
that would roughly equate to the 3 options you have at a gas station and ease the adjustment to the differences. Maybe Im saying things that people already know, but I just see this as the barrier to adoption right now.
"Refuel experience" is a red herring at best. Partly because the ubiquity of the electric grid means that you can charge anywhere: that's the subtle game changer that doesn't always come across when someone new to electric vehicles thinks about them. A Level 1 trickle charge while I'm asleep at home is plenty for my daily work commute. My car is parked nearly the same amount of time in my work parking lot: if the office park added a Level 1 or Level 2 charger next to the street lamp I park by I'd almost never need to charge at home.
Road trips are definitely the exception to the daily grind, and are the place where you really want a good "refuel experience". I think Tesla's superchargers fit that fine, but obviously there's a range currently to people's road trip experience. (90% of 300+ miles in 30 minutes; that's about my bladder range and 30 minutes is a light snack, a good stretch, and a brief glance at Twitter or a chapter of a good book.) It might get better than that as battery tech changes, but let's face it that we're at a good enough start now that we should stop dismissing electric cars because you don't think they have a "refuel experience".
I do, however disagree on the refuel experience mainly because while it is true, that you can constantly refuel your car while it is parked at home, the long distance driving use case is exactly where electric recharging is least developed. I think that there is a certain level of comfort knowing that, in the US at least there are only a handful of places in the country where a stretch > 20 miles exists without the ability to refuel. For the most part I think most people active on HN are many times more willing to switch to electric cars. The average person on the street may not be so willing.
Unless Mercedes finds a cheaper battery elsewhere they're going to be paying Tesla for these.
Consumers are going to be paying for these, no matter the supplier. I don't see why Daimler wouldn't be buying components from Tesla, _if Tesla can supply them_. So far the "Gigafactory" is just not big enough for Mercedes (2,200,000 vehicles/year).
Tesla might be a single large producer but it is a fraction of the overall world production. Is he even planning to have that much excess capacity after powerwall/teslas?
Ultimately, both statements can be true. Increase proliferation while generating multiple revenue streams off of Tesla R&D.
Mercedes is like Microsoft, when they helped Apple to survive.
However, what surprised me in this article is the following:
> VW has earmarked 50 billion euros for batteries for its electric cars
That's more than Tesla's current market cap.
Edit: Seems I missed the article on the front page, as the latter is also being discussed:
That's a meaningless number without the context of how many years it's spread across - which is of course the vaporware point of the statement from VW, it's about grabbing a headline (hey look, we're doing X thing too, we're not the next Nokia, really!). Tesla might as well issue a press release that says they plan to spend $200 billion on batteries (over 20-30 years, but you know, leave that part out).
You have to take these announcements with a grain of salt and in the light of China's announcement. The big car makers who have been criticised for being late to the party, are making these claims now mainly to prevent sliding share prices as investors begin to draw conclusions.
Mercedes will probably make great electric cars. But there will be people for a long time forward who will buy a Tesla to make a statement.
I can't even begin to express my utter disgust at this statement.