The Mercedes for Less

  • April 12, 2024

If you follow this column, you’ll recall I had a falling out with Mercedes-Benz back in January over what I’d written about Mercedes-Benz devices. Mercedes has openly stated it intends to sell nothing except devices within just a few years from now and it apparently irritated Mercedes – corporate – that I’d made a few observations about this.

One of them is parked outside my garage right now.

It is a 2024 Hyundai Ioniq 6 EV sent for me to test drive and review. What has that to do with Mercedes?

Well, just look at it.

The Ioniq looks so much like a Mercedes EQE – one of Mercedes’ newest devices that I test drove last year – that it could easily be mistaken for an EQE. Especially from the side. It even has the same flush-mounted rectangular door pulls that automatically deploy as you approach and the device senses the proximity of the key fob holder.

From 20 yards out, you’d be hard-pressed to tell.

I don’t know for a fact whether Hyundai designers deliberately cribbed the Ioniq’s design but the practice of copying the looks of a more expensive/prestigious model is common, for the obvious reason. People who can’t afford a high-priced car such as a Mercedes – or who would rather not pay for one – often like driving a car that looks like one. Lexus understood this when it designed the first LS sedan back in the late 1980s. It looked a lot like a Mercedes E-Class sedan – but it cost a lot less than a Mercedes E-Class sedan.

Lexus sold a lot of them, at the expense of Mercedes.

But here’s what’s apparently not obvious – to Mercedes and also the other “premium” brands (including Lexus) when it comes to devices:

There is no meaningful difference between the various devices – especially when they are also styled to look the same. The ’24 Ioniq not only looks a lot like a ’24 EQE, it might as well be an EQE.

Or the reverse.

Except, of course, for the price.

What do you get for the $74,900 that Mercedes asks for an EQE vs. what you get for the $37,500 Hyundai asks for the Ioniq? Well, you get a larger, non-functional swath-of-plastic “grill” (devices don’t need airflow over the radiators they don’t have for the engines they lack) and a really large plastic “Mercedes” three-pointed star symbol that desperately touts how much more you paid for this device rather than the other device.

But underneath the plastic?

There are electric motors and batteries in both devices. The same soundless, anodyne, homogenous things, in both devices.

It’s true the Mercedes device has a larger battery and stronger motors. But this is a difference akin to one smartphone having a larger screen than another. In other words, it is not much of a difference. Especially when viewed in the context of the difference in price. The EQE costs literally twice-as-much as the Ioniq. You could buy two of Hyundai’s devices for the cost of one Mercedes device and that would solve the main problem attending device ownership – i.e., having to plan your life around recharging the thing – because you could drive one device while the other is charging and then swap them out as needed. As you would the batteries for a cordless drill.

But what do you get for spending twice as much on the Mercedes device? Other than more inconvenience?

Well, you get that big plastic “Mercedes” three-pointed star plastic-welded to the plastic oversized non-functional grill. You also get simulated spaceship sounds piped through the audio system. The Hyundai device does not offer this, but you could probably Bluetooth similar sounds through its similar LCD touchscreen display infotainment system.

You don’t even get as far.

The Mercedes device comes standard with 260 miles of range (best case) before it’s necessary to plug the thing in again. The Hyundai device can go 270 miles.

Contrast this with getting what you paid for, once-upon-a-time, when you bought a Mercedes rather than a Hyundai.

The main thing being an engine designed by Mercedes engineers and assembled by Mercedes technicians that was not just different from the engines that powered other cars but also a cut above. More refined, of higher quality. Analogous to what you pay for when you buy a Rolex watch rather than a $20 digital watch. They are both watches – and both tell the time. But everyone understands the difference between the two.

And that difference would not be made the same by affixing “Rolex” to the $20 digital watch.

I tried to explain this to the Mercedes PR guy who rescinded my Mercedes press loan privileges. I asked him whether the longstanding Mercedes practice of having the master technician who hand-assembled Mercedes’ specialty engines – the AMG line – would continue when “AMG” meant another device and probably made with Chinese-sourced components not meaningfully different from those installed in other devices.

He didn’t reply.

. . .

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