Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen reveal electric cars at Paris Motor Show

Daimler’s Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen Group introduced electric-car concepts at the Paris Motor Show, signaling the German auto industry’s commitment to waging a fight with Tesla Motors over electric-vehicle leadership.

The exterior of the Mercedes-Benz Generation EQ electric car concept.

Mercedes revealed an entirely new brand dedicated to electric vehicles, called EQ, and paired it with a concept car called Generation EQ, a sport-utility coupe with electric range of up to about 310 miles. The automaker said it would introduce its first EQ brand vehicle by 2020.

Volkswagen debuted the I.D. Electric concept, with a range of about 249 to 373 miles, and said a compact car version would hit dealerships in 2020.

Taken together, the two vehicles illustrate the German auto industry’s concerted attempt to compete with the likes of Tesla’s Model S and General Motors’ Chevrolet Bolt.

Although German automakers have a well-earned reputation for favoring conventional-engine vehicles, the companies’ romance with horsepower is gradually fading.

“The emission-free automobile is the future,” Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche said in Paris. “And our new EQ brand goes far beyond electric vehicles. EQ stands for a comprehensive electric ecosystem of services, technologies and innovations.”.

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Mercedes custom-designed a new vehicle platform for the EQ brand, saying it will be flexible enough to fit different battery configurations, wheelbases and sizes, including SUVs, coupes and cars.

Volkswagen’s I.D. Concept illustrates the world’s second-largest automaker’s attempt to redefine its image following a diesel emissions scandal that tarnished its reputation for clean cars.

“In 2020 we will begin to introduce an entire family of electric vehicles on the market,” Volkswagen brand CEO Herbert Diess said in Paris. “All of them will be based on a new vehicle architecture, which was specially and exclusively developed for all-electric vehicles. Not for combustion engine or plug-in hybrid vehicles. The I.D. Stands for this new era of all-electric vehicles, for a new automotive era: electrical, connected and autonomously driving.”.

In addition to electric-drive capability, Volkswagen said the I.D. Concept represents its intention to deliver a “fully autonomous” vehicle by 2025. The I.D.’S steering wheel retracts into the dash when the car is in driverless mode, and the car dispenses with the conventional key in favor of a smartphone start-up system.

VW has said repeatedly that it plans to deliver more than 30 electric models by 2025. The company’s Porsche brand also showed off a Panamera E-Hybrid in Paris, representing one of 17 plug-in hybrids the company expects to begin selling within two years.

“Regardless of all the new opportunities and possibilities the mobility world of tomorrow opens up for us, we must not neglect our existing technologies and core competencies,” Volkswagen Group CEO Matthias Mueller said. “The future is electric. Nevertheless, classic powertrains will continue to play a key role for the next two decades at least. We must and we will press ahead with the evolution of diesel and petrol engines. And at the same time, we will progress with alternative technologies.”.

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Still, although the German automakers are making rapid progress with electrics, they’ve already fallen behind the American automakers. Tesla’s Model S sedan has exhilarated fans, and GM is set to begin selling the first mass-market electric car, the Bolt, which will have a range of about 238 miles, by the end of the year.

And Tesla has said it will introduce a Bolt competitor, the mass-market Model 3, with more than 200 miles of range, in 2017, though analysts expect it will take longer.

Follow USA TODAY reporter Nathan Bomey on Twitter @NathanBomey.

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