The First Crop of Luxury Crossover EVs from Mercedes, BMW, and Audi Wants to Fit In

With features and performance engineered to match their gas-powered counterparts, new electric cars from Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz on display at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week send a clear message: They don’t necessarily want to stand out.

Despite investing billions in their development, the trio of German automakers are positioning their forthcoming models as five-passenger luxury crossovers that happen to run on battery power, not as electric vehicles with a luxury bent. They’re hope the marketing message will help them avoid alienating shoppers on the showroom floor and appeal to their sense of the familiar.

At the show, Mercedes-Benz debuted its EQ C, a 402-horsepower crossover with an estimated 279-mile range and an 80 kilowatt-hour battery. The brand will stress the “everyday usability” of the car, with plenty of cargo space and a trailer hitch, when it goes on sale next year.

“It has everything that you’d expect from a Mercedes,” said Leonhard Gebel, product manager for the new model. “In terms of quality, safety, and comfort, you don’t have to make any compromises.”

Meanwhile, BMW showed its Vision iNext, a concept car that guides a much tamer production version expected in 2021, and Audi brought its e-Tron SUV, which goes on sale this spring. The trio will eventually join the Jaguar I-Pace and Tesla Model X in sparking demand for a segment that hardly existed three years ago.

U.S. sales of electric vehicles are expected to rise sixfold by 2025, up from 1% of the new car market today, according to analytics firm IHS Markit. More than half of those are expected to be SUVs with the range and cargo capacity to serve as the primary vehicle for some households.

As they invest billions more dollars in the ramp up, automakers are playing up the message that their cars can travel just as far and perform just as well as their gasoline counterparts while providing the space and safety of an SUV.

Mercedes-Benz parent company Daimler said it will spend $23 billion on battery cells for future vehicles, including the 10 EVs it plans to launch by 2022, while BMW plans to offer 25 hybrid and electric vehicles by 2025. Audi plans to deliver a dozen fully electric models within the next six years, while its sister brand Porsche is investing more than $7 billion to electrify half of its portfolio by 2025. Their Volkswagen Group parent company has announced plans to invest $48 billion to build more than two dozen electrified models by 2023.

Audi held the e-Tron’s global launch event last month in Abu Dhabi, where the car proved it could handle a variety of terrain, from sand to rock to pavement. The 400-horsepower e-Tron, which runs on a 95 kilowatt-hour battery and a pair of electric motors, comes with Audi’s quattro all-wheel-drive system and a 4,000-pound towing capacity.

Were it not for the charge port carved into the sheet metal or its eerily quiet ride, the 400-horsepower crossover would look nearly identical to another model in Audi’s lineup, its bestselling, gasoline-powered Q5 midsize crossover.

“We wanted to create, for lack of a better term, a very normal car,” Marc Lichte, Audi’s head of design, said at a launch event for the e-Tron. “We wanted a real SUV.”

Cars, TechJaclyn TropFortune