LOS ANGELES – Mercedes-Benz will offer electrified versions of its entire portfolio within five years.

“We intend to play a lead role in shaping the future of mobility,” MBUSA President and CEO Dietmar Exler says at this city’s annual auto show, where the German automaker held the world premiere of its ’18 CLS (billed as a 4-door coupe) and the U.S. debut of a new S-Class Cabriolet.

The automaker is investing $1 billion to expand its assembly plant in Tuscaloosa, AL, where it will make electrified SUVs. Mercedes also plans to build a battery plant nearby.

Other German automakers, particularly Volkswagen, also are embarking on bold EV initiatives. At the auto show, Exler speaks with WardsAuto about Mercedes’ plans.  

WardsAuto: You already have electric vehicles on the market, such as the B-Class, but talk about the ambitious EV program in the works.

Exler: Our new EQ product brand (dubbed as intelligent electric mobility) will lead the charge. It encompasses a wide range of vehicles with electric drivetrains. We’ll electrify our portfolio by 2022 with 50 new models (Mercedes and Smart), with at least one electrified alternative in all segments. The first EQ is coming next year, the EQC, that’s GLC-based.

WardsAuto: And the GLC is your midsize SUV?

Exler: Right.

WardsAuto: What are the trepidations about getting into electric big time? A lot of manufacturers are doing it, but isn’t there a big question mark about customer acceptance and demand?

Exler: We are confident that if we build good product with a convincing value proposition, then customers will take a look at it and try it, and we’ll be successful in the market.

It was the same with the CLS here when it first came out. When we develop a new segment and bring a good product to it, we do well. I’m optimistic we will repeat that with the (electrified) GLC.

WardsAuto: So you see an EV audience out there in sufficient numbers?

Exler: If we have the compelling product, customers will get it.   

WardsAuto: Compelling in what sense? Is it high EV range?

Exler: It’s a mixture of everything. It’s about range, comfort, driving performance, price point. You just need a hit that meets customer expectations.

The difficult thing is the customer expectations evolve and change over time. That makes it tricky. It also makes it fun.

We’ve been on the road to success with our products. (Mercedes sold 2 million units globally last year and leads the luxury-vehicle segment in the U.S. with 270,000 deliveries through October of this year.) We’ll do well with the electric products as well. It always starts with looking at customer expectations. What do they want and how can you top that?       

WardsAuto: Will price point be a concern with EV buyers?

Exler: Price is always a factor in every vehicle in every segment. Whether electric or not, you need to be extremely careful and make sure you get it right. It’s not different for the electric-vehicle customer.

sfinlay@wardsauto.com