It’s No Wonder the Germans (and Brits) Want Electric Flagships

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]