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[BERLIN] Mercedes-Benz is accellerating plans to introduce a suite of battery-powered cars by three years in a race to meet tighter emissions rules as European buyers turn away from fuel-efficient diesel cars.
In a 10 billion-euro (S$15.06 billion) project, the world's largest luxury-car maker intends to roll out 10 new electric vehicles by 2022, compared with the 2025 target announced at the Paris auto show in September.
The expedited time frame reflects the urgency facing carmakers as they brace for a shift away from traditional automotive technologies. Combustion engines would continue to be refined for a "transitional period", Mercedes parent Daimler AG said on Wednesday.
"We want to shape the profound transformation of the automotive industry from the forefront," Daimler chairman Manfred Bischoff said in a statement at the company's annual shareholder meeting in Berlin.
"Further fundamental changes will be required for Daimler to remain successful," as the industry adjusts to cars running on electric motors and capable of driving themselves.
The faster pace comes as the car industry battles with a backlash against diesel cars stemming from Volkswagen AG's cheating scandal. Daimler has also been embroiled in increased scrutiny of the technology with German prosecutors investigating the Stuttgart-based automaker's employees over diesel-manipulation allegations. The technology is key for meeting increasingly stringent rules for lowering carbon-dioxide emissions.
After achieving steady reductions in CO2 emissions in previous years, Daimler struggled in 2016 with levels in Europe steady at 123 grams per kilometre as buyers favoured larger vehicles.
In its home region, Daimler needs to achieve a level of 100 grams per kilometre by 2021 or face heavy fines. German diesel demand in December fell to the lowest level since September 2010, accounting for 43 per cent of total sales, according the Center for Automotive Research at the University of Duisburg-Essen.
Early signs of carmakers shifting focus from combustion engines are showing, Germany's IG Metall union said after conducting a survey of manufacturers and suppliers in Daimler's home state of Baden-Wuerttemberg.
"Among development teams, especially in diesel, there are signs there's less to do as electrification is starting to have an impact," Roman Zitzelsberger, a union representative on Daimler's supervisory board, told reporters in Berlin Tuesday.
"We found there are fewer follow-up requests and general degree of activity."