It's No Wonder the Germans (and Brits) Want Electric Flagships

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems

Stately. Elegant. Dignified. Endangered?

This isn’t the first time someone has applied that final descriptor to flagship passenger cars, and with good reason. As SUVs gobble into traditional passenger car market share, sales of even the most prestigious sedans have taken a hit — leaving premium automakers wondering “what’s next?”

Well, more SUVs, for one, but also more electrification. Luxury car buyers have shown themselves to be more receptive to plug-in hybrid or fully electric vehicles, but more importantly, one pesky American automaker — Tesla — is threatening to eat everyone’s lunch.

In Europe, competition between the Old World and Silicon Valley is heating up, and the newcomer is winning the sales race.

As reported by Automotive News Europe, Tesla’s Model S sedan finished 2017 ahead of the continent’s luxury standard bearers for the very first time. Thanks to a 30-percent sales jump, Model S sales leaped ahead of flagships from the big three premium German brands.

According to JATO Dynamics data, Tesla recorded 16,132 Model S sales in the region last year. That tops Mercedes-Benz’s S-Class, which sold 13,359 units over the same period. BMW’s 7 Series sold 11,735 examples in 2017, while Audi’s A8/S8 brought up the rear with just under 6,000 deliveries.

Sales of alternative-fueled vehicles (hybrids, plug-ins and electrics) rose 46.2 percent in Europe last year, with 738,000 registrations.

It was one thing for Tesla to top sales charts in Norway, but now it’s marching into Teutonic territory and seizing it for itself. The ever-more-stringent emissions standards and proposed diesel or internal combustion bans in various European jurisdictions fails to paint a pretty picture for these flagships’ future.

While it’s a sole model battling automakers with vast stables of SUVs, the Tesla Model X SUV has already matched or outsold popular ICE-powered SUVs in the region, as well. Include the Porsche Cayenne and BMW X6 among those challengers.

Desperate times call for what?

While both Mercedes-Benz and BMW already field plug-in hybrid variants of the S-Class and 7 Series, those models alone won’t be enough to fend off Tesla, especially once it maxes out production at its Fremont, California assembly plant. Never mind once a proposed European factory opens.

The plan is to beat Tesla at its own game.

M-B plans to offer fully electric vehicles in just a couple years’ time, and there’ll be at least one SUV among the EQ-branded EVs. Bimmer plans to offer up to 25 electric or hybrid vehicles by 2025 under its “i” sub-brand. There’s also flexible platforms on the way for the coming decade, capable of handling all powertrain types, and an EV in the four-door “gran coupe” style coming in 2021.

Over at Jaguar, top brass reportedly feel the only way to keep the classic XJ model in production is by stripping it of an engine and gas tank. Audi knows brand die-hards love a nice V8, but it won’t sit on its laurels as customers increasingly turn towards green options. There’s three EVs coming by 2020.

It’s a game of technological catch-up for these storied brands, but, as Tesla has demonstrated with its Model 3 assembly issues, the old guard’s cash and production capacity might help it win the race.

[Image: Daimler AG]

Steph Willems
Steph Willems

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  • Vulpine Vulpine on Feb 21, 2018

    The coming years will be interesting to watch. Looking forward to it.

  • HotPotato HotPotato on Feb 22, 2018

    Talk, talk, talk from the established automakers. Everything and the moon is coming in 2020. No, make that 2025. Oh, did we say “electric”? We meant 48-Volt stop-start systems.

  • ToolGuy "Selling as I got a new car and don't need an extra." ...Well that depends on what new car you chose, doesn't it? 😉
  • El scotto The days of "Be American, buy America" are long gone. Then there's the mental gymnastics of "is a Subaru made in Lafayette, IN more American than something from gm or Ford made in Mexico?" Lastly, it gets down to people's wallets; something cheap on Amazon or Temu will outsell its costlier American-made item. Price not Patriotism sells most items. One caveat: any US candidate should have all of his/her goods made in the USA.
  • FreedMike Well, here's my roster of car purchases since 1981: Three VWsTwo Mazdas (one being a Mercury Tracer, full disclosure)One AudiOne FordOne BuickOne HondaOne Volvo I think I hear Lee Greenwood in the background... In all seriousness, I'd have bought more American cars had they made more of the kinds of cars I like (smaller, performance-oriented).
  • Kwik_Shift_Pro4X I'll gladly support the least "woke" and the most Japanese auto company out there.
  • Jmo2 I just got an email from the dealership where I bought my car and it looks like everything has $5k on the hood.