"This is the next evolution of where [AMG] is going as far as being a high tech company."
ercedes-Benz is unleashing an electric version of its SLS AMG supercar on Europe. While there are no current plans to sell the car, which will retail for around €416,000 (about $533,104 at today's exchange rates), in the U.S., the all-electric supercar with gullwing doors has been confirmed for production in Europe.
The timing may seem odd, since Audi killed production hopes for its R8 E-Tron (which would have been a direct competitor) last fall, but Mercedes-Benz is green-lighting the car.
Most electric-car buffs won't be able to afford such a high-end vehicle, and some supercar buyers may be put off by its non-traditional powertrain, but Mercedes-Benz sees value in the car, no matter how many they sell (at that price, sales volume is guaranteed to be small.).
Mercedes spokesman Christian Bokich talked about the car having a "halo effect" for the brand. A halo car is a supercar that draws attention to a brand, with buyers then checking out a company's more-mainstream models.
"Being an AMG in itself has a halo effect," Bokich said, referring to Mercedes' AMG performance unit. "This is the next evolution of where [AMG] is going as far as being a high tech company."
The SLS Electric Drive offers four electric motors (one at each wheel), 740 total horsepower, all-wheel-drive, a lithium-ion battery pack, an EV-specific instrument panel, and a Formula 1 inspired pushrod front suspension. Mercedes is promising a recharge time of three hours using a quick charger and a range of 155 miles.
Bokich said that the relative newness of the technology will help the SLS sell well among first-adopters with deep pockets.
"It's like a computer game," Bokich said. "[It] adds an emotional element."
When a company spends lots (and lots, and lots, and lots…) of money on a project like this, one that will only sell in small numbers in even the best-case scenario, there's usually more than one reason for the investment.
"It's more to show that we can do it," Bokich said.
That's not the only reason, though. Expensive technology can and does trickle down to mainstream models. While electric tech is available in affordable cars like the Nissan Leaf and the Chevrolet Volt, Mercedes can still apply lessons learned from the SLS as it mass produces other electric vehicles. Of course, what those lessons are may not always be obvious to consumers.
"Is it more economical to get an electric car with smaller body styles? Of course," Bokich said. Which is why Mercedes also launched an electric B-Class for the American market at the 2013 New York Auto Show.
"One step is always an evolution of the following step," Bokich said.
The non-electric SLS is already a pretty special (and expensive) car, and Bokich said that the differences between the electric model and the gasoline-powered car will entice some buyers. Beyond the gas-free powertrain, those differences are subtle visually, but Bokich says the different driving dynamics and the unique instrument panel will appeal to buyers.
For one, he said, the car can be driven in a comfortable mode, a sporty mode, or in full-on racetrack mode, and going back to the computer game analogy, Bokich said people will track their fuel economy and range using the IP and drive accordingly.
"It's a kind of interface. It's a personalization factor," he said.
Half a million dollars buys a lot of personalization.