The CEO of Daimler, Dieter Zetsche, was recently quoted making some interesting new comments about Tesla Motors and the overall changing landscape of the industry at the Paris Motor Show.
The comments were a bit different than what we’re used to from Daimler execs. You’ll probably recall that the board member in charge of research and development at Daimler AG, Thomas Weber, scoffed when told of the number of Tesla Model 3 reservations, saying: “Let’s see if they can build them.”
That’s generally been the tact taken by execs to date, to claim indignantly that what Tesla is literally doing can’t actually be done. Even though it is being done.
In an interview with CNBC, Zetsche was asked whether the company’s new EQ platform for electric vehicles was a means of “fighting back” against Tesla. He stated: “If you want to interpret it that way, it’s fine. Tesla is a successful electric automotive company… (but) we want to be No 1 by latest 2025 in the electric premium segment.”
The “electric premium segment?” That’s the entire luxury sedan segment that Tesla is now taking over, not just the electric portion of it — Daimler’s problem isn’t as simple as losing out on an emerging segment, but rather the destruction and replacement of the current segment with an electric one.
The “interesting” new comments mentioned above were made by Zetsche in an interview with Bloomberg. EV Annex provides more: “The Bloomberg reporter commented on Zetsche’s newfound Silicon Valley ‘tech-look’ — complete with jeans and sneakers. Zetsch later commented that, ‘We are seeing the digital world taking possession of the automotive world.’ Asked if Tesla is the key competitor in the luxury space, Zetsche responds, ‘At this point in time, obviously yes.’ He admits that based on targets five years ago, Mercedes is ‘tracking behind’ — therefore they’ve readjusted their target to be the leader in electric vehicles by 2025. He also refers to new adversaries in the autonomous driving space as ‘non-automotive competitors’ — likely a reference to the Silicon Valley companies now taking center stage as it relates to self-driving cars.”
So the solution to the company’s many institutional problems and inertia is as simple as “dressing casual?” That will make up for the company’s lack of real action to date? Or is it just that that’s far easier (and apparent) than actual institutional change? Isn’t that cargo cult thinking?
As far as the rest of the comments, targets are one thing, achievements are another — simply adjusting the target doesn’t mean that it becomes any easier to actually catch up to Tesla, and others — much less by as soon as 2025, which is less than a decade away.
Still, the comments make it sound like Daimler execs are now realizing what a bad situation the company stands to be in if rapid changes don’t occur over the coming years.
It should be remembered, though, that much of the disruptive quality of Tesla’s approach is how comprehensive it is — the company has been building out its Supercharger and destination charger networks for several years now; working to build its own (enormous) battery manufacturing facility; and working aggressively on the development of its own autonomous driving technologies. If Daimler is to compete, the matter isn’t as simple as designing a compelling electric vehicle that sells at a similar price point as a Tesla Model 3.