The luxury car market, all those high-end motors associated with performance and purring horsepower, have remained relatively quiet in the new rush to the electric table, only Tesla has had a really noticeable market presence.  There has always seemed something rather counter-intuitive at removing the defining hallmark of roaring 12-cylinder engines and replacing them with silent lithium-ion batteries. These are brands which have staked their lives on speed and performance, luxury marques substituting it with well, silence. But now, that is all changing.

Premium brand luxury EVs

After a pretty slow start, there is a very fast-growing market for premium-branded luxury EVs. The ban on new conventionally fuelled cars in Europe by 2035 has really focused the mind. Different manufacturers are chasing different angles, some majoring on cabin luxury and others still pushing for top performance. Welcome BMW I cars, Audi E-trons, Mercedes EQs, Bentley and even the new all electric Porsche for those with plenty of budget.

The challenge for these big-name brands is appealing to their traditional audience whilst still offering the badge but something essentially very different under the bonnet. Sustainability and electrification are the new buzzwords not readily associated with premium, luxury cars. These concepts are far easier to sell to the family car market and compact city models which have always been about economy and usability, perhaps that is why the big-name luxury car manufacturers have taken their time to come to the EV market.

Bentley’s head of engineering, Matthias Rabe, states “The future of Bentley will be fully electric…we are working not just on one car, but a whole family. Next year we will have two plug-in hybrids, and these offer the best of both worlds for customers, as they can decide when they want to go in full-electric mode, without any range anxiety.”

By 2025, Bentley claim they will have their first fully electric car and by 2026, all Bentleys will be plug-in, hybrid or full electric and by 2030, the whole fleet will be entirely electric with not a combustion engine in sight.

Major luxury car brands are having their arms twisted as new EU7 emission regulations will force them to look for alternatives to their twin turbo V6s and V8s and electrify at least some of their range.

Driving Range for luxury EVs

One of the biggest concerns for any EV motorist regardless of what they are driving is range so how much more is this problem compounded by a luxury car which must have all the performance and acceleration of the original combustion engine version.

The EQS from Mercedes-Benz launched this year is going to have a huge range of more than 700km, quite exceptional for any EV and no doubt as battery technology develops, range will become even less of an issue amongst consumers.

Luxury car motorists

Bentley, amongst other premium motor manufacturers, is aware of the change in buyer taste and values. Even amongst the Bentley audience, there is an awareness and interest in sustainability, and this is growing. Luxury car makers are going to have to grasp the environmental nettle or risk losing their loyal following.

Mercedes-Benz have not shied away from the task with the new and futuristic EQS, featuring a host of recycled materials as part of the production process including mushroom fibres, ground up cacti as a leather substitute, bamboo fibre for the carpets and even food scraps incorporated somewhere in the production process!

However, the shift in buyer expectation is not just about environmental issues and this is because the demographic of this audience is also changing. By 2030, 60% of high-net-worth individuals will be under the age of forty; this is the market that luxury car manufacturers want to chase. Plus, 35% of that audience will be women so this is quite a move from the profile of the luxury car purchaser twenty or even ten years ago.

Digital sophistication for EV drivers

Luxury car manufacturers are also focusing on the digital sophistication of these vehicles for customers who have deep pockets and high expectations. It’s not all about electric power and sustainable production processes but increasing digitalisation and a different expectation of how a car can enhance your life. Artificial intelligence and driverless cars are rapidly galloping up behind the move from the internal combustion engine to full electric power and within a decade as all cars go electric, will have overtaken it. This is a point not lost on luxury car makers who are already looking ahead to full artificial intelligence and driverless vehicles.

Focus is shifting away from the exterior to the interior to service the needs of an increasingly digitally savvy and obsessed audience. Luxury car makers are focusing on consumers who would prefer to look at their Smartphone as they journey along rather than actually drive the car.

The new EQS from Mercedes will have a flat floor as there is no need for the shaping around a gearbox or a driveshaft tunnel as EVs are absent these features. This offers more cabin space plus the silence of the drive both suggesting that driving could become a vehicle for a completely different motoring experience, and this is before you factor in the now infamous full width hyperscreen digital fascia.

How will traditional luxury car buyers recognise their cherished marque?

All is not lost as premium car makers realise that the badge and ‘the look’ is still essential and carries that all-important cachet. This means tradition and craftsmanship by the bucket load, just presented in a way that is sustainable.

Bentley have harvested riverwood found in lakes and rivers across in East Anglia. This wood is 5,000 years old and has been polished and veneered to produce a unique and authentic finish, the top end of luxury for that iconic Bentley look and not a tree cut down anywhere in the world.

How far can you go with sustainability?

Electric vehicles are part of a bigger picture. Luxury motor manufacturers are not just focusing on pure electric vehicles but the issue of sustainability right along the supply chain.

Audi’s production facilities will become CO2 neutral by 2025 and Audi claim that the cobalt, lithium and nickel required for EV batteries is being acquired in a sustainable way. Critics of EV technology have been vociferous in their criticism of electric battery production most of which comes from China, one of the biggest polluters on the planet.

Bentley state that their production site in Crewe is already CO2 neutral using energy from a solar farm nearby and buying in any remaining energy deficit from green suppliers.

Is the performance still there?

The Jaguar I-Pace offers 0-60 in 4.5 seconds and 696Nm of instant torque plus legendary sports car agility, no wonder this car was named World Green Car and World Car Design of the Year at the World Car Awards in 2019. Even better, Jaguar offer the opportunity to build the car to your own specification, yet another development in the luxury car electric revolution.

The Aston Martin Rapide E is also no slow coach with the legendary V12 engine replaced by a battery offering 800 volts and 65khw capacity which in old money translates to 602 brake horsepower (bhp).

The Porsche Taycan offers 62mph in under 3.5 seconds with a maximum speed of 155mph. Porsche wants to remain true to its philosophy to give its devoted customers true sports car feel and performance.

Range does seem to be an issue with these vehicles as there is a clear correlation between the ability to hit those speeds in under 5 seconds and how much battery capacity you will use however, someone who can pay £250,000 for a new car probably won’t be overly worried by this. As with all new technology, this will only improve so range and performance won’t become mutually exclusive on these high-end cars in the years to come.

Conclusions

So, the simple answer is that luxury cars can go fully electric, but this involves far more than the actual vehicle and alongside this is the rapidly accelerating vision of digitalisation which may well turn out to be the bigger of these two motoring revolutions in the 21st century.

A premium car make will have different selling points in the 21st century focused more on how much energy you can save as you motor based on battery size and aerodynamics and, what the cabin experience is like. Its ironic as top marques have never been about saving fuel or energy although as anyone who reads the motoring press will know, this economy doesn’t extend to the price on the forecourt! Some things never change. However, luxury car manufacturers will need to be prepared to move with the times and they do all seem to be embracing the challenge.