By on February 20, 2018

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]

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23 Comments on “It’s No Wonder the Germans (and Brits) Want Electric Flagships...”

  • avatar

    The future looks bright for electrified vehicles. I’m sure some people are afraid of this technology. People always used to complain about power windows.

  • avatar
    Menar Fromarz

    At least the Tesla doesn’t look like a Genesis, as does the Merc. Smooth sophisticated style trumps frumpy angry overwrought any day.

  • avatar

    You mean, people want them because…stand back!…they’re desirable?

    And I thought it was because these 1 percenters were actually tree hugging communists or could get a few grand back at tax time.

    Imagine my embarrassment.

  • avatar

    If the Brits and Germans are serious about pushing luxury EVs, the Tesla Model 3 is as dead as Kelsey’s nuts. Musk will have to keep up and his low-end fanbois will be sacrificed. If the Europeans can start cranking out high-end EVs in a couple of years it may become interesting.

    • 0 avatar

      Why does this logic apply to the Model 3 but not the Model S, out of curiosity? Tesla has to figure out how to actually build the cars it’s selling, but the ones it sells are plenty desirable, even compared to the Germans.

      • 0 avatar

        Tesla knows how to build cars. They’ve poached some of the best talent from the conventional automakers. What they need to do is to learn how to manage expectations. All automakers miss production launches, but they don’t all publicize every step and stumble along the way. GM teased the Camaro for nearly a decade before building it. And as beautiful their concepts are, they couldn’t build a sexy Cadillac if their momma’s life depended on it. VW has been flapping their gums about a retro bus since the 1990’s and it’s still not here. Where’s the outrage? Why is no one holding a company’s feet to the fire that went bankrupt and still owes the taxpayer hundreds of millions of $? The reason is, conventional automakers don’t have the same sort of industry pushback. Big-oil, dealer networks, parts suppliers, plus the industry lackeys and old farts (such as Bankrupt Bob Lutz) concoct native content and articles with the hopes that Tesla will fail. Please explain to me how the production of a vehicle that has a paid waiting list of hundreds of thousands of cars is not a good sign. Tesla won’t fail. Apple or Amazon would buy them before that happened. Then it would truly be game over.

  • avatar

    Approx 15000 sales, in one of the most fashion-over-function corners of the automotive landscape, isn’t necessarily much of a barometer for the market as a whole. 15000 very high margin sales, isn’t nothing, so I don’t blame the Teutons for vying for them. But it’s hardly a make or break, nor necessarily much a sign of anything.

    • 0 avatar

      ↑ This. The Tesla’s cool, and it’s beautifully styled inside and out.

      • 0 avatar


        The Model 3 (I’ve only seen one in the wild), kinda looks like I left my Model S in the dryer too long, maybe that speaks well of the design of the S. Not exactly my cup of coffee, but beauty is in the eye of the status-seeker.

        Inside, please give me something I can see straight ahead of me, and I just can’t get used to the Scandinavian coffee table complete with iPad stand dash.

        • 0 avatar

          I have yet to see a Model 3, but the S is getting pretty common in my neck of the woods. No desire to own either here, but it’s evident to me that the Tesla S is offering something the high end buyer likes. It’s easy to look at, fast, and makes a great conversation piece.

          • 0 avatar

            After how many “Ludicrous Mode” 0-60 pulls do you drain the battery enough to not have five miles of range left, or until “limp-home” mode kicks in to keep the battery cool?

            Might not be on everyone’s list of questions, but…!

    • 0 avatar

      The S Class is Mercedes’ aspirational vehicle that most people will never be able to own. The sales numbers aren’t huge, but it’s definitely a sign that people’s preferences are changing. When a vehicle comes along that makes a Mercedes flagship feel like a lawn tractor, that’s definitely a concern for the Germans.

  • avatar

    The EQ brand is smart. The S-Class is great, but it represents such an old and outdated idea of status and luxury. Conservative, understated, restrained… no thanks. The Germans are in a real iterative design rut. They need to use these EVs as an opportunity for more dynamic design. That is what people want.

    • 0 avatar

      The S-Class is an excellent (if unreliable) vehicle, but in today’s automotive marketplace it is a rich old man’s car and that is all. The BMW 7 Series is in the same boat but also has livery duties. Neither vehicle is on the radar for anyone under age 60 that has money.

      Tesla, on the other hand, is on everyone’s radar and is geared toward a younger more modern audience.

  • avatar

    The rumour is that Jaguar will replace the XJ with an all electric version at the end of the year and Range Rover will also launch something similar at around the same time. If so I suspect JLR will heavily dent Tesla’s Model S and X sales. Problem is the market may not grow fast enough to sustain Tesla plus JLR and the German big 3.

  • avatar

    I’ll stick to my 6.75L Mulsanne Speed, TYVM.

  • avatar

    great post!!!

  • avatar

    Tesla sold most of its cars in markets where ICE cars heavily taxed and electric cars exempt from taxes.

    Those 16,132 Model S sales? 3,712 were in Norway and 2,051 in the Netherlands, ca 36%. As for the Model X, it apparantly sold about 12,000 units, of which 4,748 or ca 40% were in Norway. Go figure what happens when other, long range electrical cars become available there.

    Besides, the claim that ‘Tesla Model X SUV has already matched or outsold popular ICE-powered SUVs in the region’ is just off. The BMW X6 (in it’s 4th model year) and the Porsche Cayenne ( model change over in 2018) are hardly popular, they are niche 2 row coupe SUVs. The Tesla model X should rather be compared to, say, the 3 row full size MB GLS.

  • avatar

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

  • avatar

    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.

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