Tony O'Kane | Mar 7, 2016

The head of Mercedes-Benz's parent company Daimler says electric cars will need to have a single-charge range of at least 500km before the motoring public will consider them a viable alternative to petrol or diesel-powered vehicles.

Right now the Tesla Model S is the only EV available here with a range in excess of 500km, and only in high-dollar variants equipped with the 90kWh battery pack.

Lower-cost EVs like the Nissan Leaf (below) have a more modest range of 170km on a single charge, though an impending battery upgrade for the Leaf will see range jump to 250km - half of what Daimler chief Dieter Zetsche says is required for EVs to become widely adopted.

Speaking to industry paper Automotive News at the recent Geneva Motor Show, Zetsche also said the price of batteries needed to fall to bring EV prices closer to parity with conventionally-engined cars, with the current average price of $230 per kilowatt-hour deemed too high.

According to Zetsche, the tipping point where battery cost becomes competitive with petrol technology is somewhere between $149 and $175 per kilowatt-hour.

While rivals BMW and Audi are forging ahead with their own electrification plans (with Audi pushing its e-tron lineup and BMW championing its BMW i sub-brand, as well as plug-in versions of its regular models), Mercedes-Benz isn't absent from the EV race either.

It already offers the B-Class Electric Drive in some overseas markets, and will deliver three new plug-in hybrid models to Australia this year - the GLE 500e, C 350e (above) and S 500e. Each has an electric-only range of circa 30km, which is in line with similar offerings like the BMW 330e and X5 xDrive40e.

But better-performing Mercedes EVs are reportedly on the way, with a large sedan expected to kick off Benz's new all-electric offshoot in 2018. With Zetsche in charge, it's probably safe to assume it'll have range that will equal - if not exceed - that of a Tesla Model S 90D.

As for cost, if Zetsche gets his way the price of entry could potentially best that of the Tesla. Watch this space.

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