Mercedes seeks pole position in India's luxury EV market as Tesla maintains distance

The manufacturer plans to launch three new electric cars in the country this year

Martin Schwenk, chief executive of Mercedes-Benz India, is seeking a clear advantage in the subcontinent's EV market. AFP
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German car maker Mercedes-Benz plans to take pole position in India's luxury electric vehicle market, its country head told Reuters, helping to cement its title as the top-selling luxury car brand and keep ahead of rival Tesla.

In India, Mercedes-Benz will launch three new electric cars this year, become the first company to assemble a luxury EV and will set up a fast-charging network nationwide, Martin Schwenk said in an interview.

The company might also manufacture batteries domestically, he said.

"Now, we are really starting our aggressive offensive into the EV market," Mr Schwenk said. "In the next five years, 25 per cent of our sales [in India] will be electric.

"Our ambition is to lead the market in the electric side as well."

Mercedes' inroads come as EV rival Tesla recently put on hold plans to enter the Indian market due to high import taxes on EVs.

Mercedes will begin its push in India with an imported electric model of its AMG EQS 53 4MATIC performance car that it launched on Wednesday.

It will be followed this year by a locally assembled, electric version of its flagship S-class sedan, the EQS, and an imported, electric people carrier later.

The AMG EQS will have a driving range of 580 kilometres on a single charge and will be priced at about $307,000.

India is largely a small and low-cost car market, in which luxury models make up 1 per cent of total annual sales of about 3 million. The luxury EV market is even smaller and largely untested.

Mercedes, which already sells its imported EQC sport-utility vehicle (SUV) in India, will be the first to assemble a luxury EV in the country, allowing it to price the car competitively over rivals because of a lower tax rate of 5 per cent on locally built EVs versus 100 per cent tax on imported models.

This will give it an edge over Germany's Audi and BMW and a clear lead over Tesla.

The 5 per cent tax rate is "quite an incentive" for customers to go electric, Mr Schwenk said.

To minimise concerns of range, Mercedes will set up 140 EV chargers nationwide, including ultra-fast ones that can charge cars by up to 80 per cent in 40 minutes, by the end of the year, he said.

The company will also consider manufacturing EV batteries and other components domestically if it starts selling "thousands" of units, though current volumes were too small to justify such an investment, Mr Schwenk said.

"You need a certain scale to make sense," he said. "I will not exclude that for the future but at this stage, it's not part of the plan."

How electric car industry can keep up with demand

How electric car industry can keep up with demand

Globally, Mercedes plans to invest more than €40 billion ($40bn) by 2030 to develop battery EVs.

Mr Schwenk expects India to align with the company's plans of shifting to EVs in terms of speed and product launches.

"We will be in line with the global aspiration of converting to electrification because we believe we can be as fast, or sometimes maybe even faster, than some other markets," he said.

Updated: August 27, 2022, 4:30 AM