MERCEDES-BENZ is embarking on an electric car strategy it admits will do little to kick along its record Australian sales but will position it for future regulatory changes and establish it as a producer of rechargeable vehicles.
The German carmaker is expanding its hybrid range to include a trio of plug-in hybrids that can be recharged from household powerpoints and drive purely on electricity for about 30 kilometres.
However, Mercedes-Benz Australia has stopped short of committing to the 10-strong range of plug-in hybrid partial electric models being developed for global markets, instead saying it will investigate opportunities “on a case-by-case basis”.
The plug-in hybrids to be offered initially will be a C-Class, S-Class and upcoming new GLE-Class (the just-released replacement for the ML), giving Mercedes-Benz rechargeable versions of its most popular sedan, benchmark limousine and family SUV.
“This is a long-term strategy for us; this will be our future,” corporate communications manager Jerry Stamoulis said, indicating the brand does not really know how many plug-in vehicles it will sell early on.
“Once government incentives catch up, once infrastructure catches up, we’ll be ready with the best possible product in the market.”
Mercedes-Benz has sold hybrid models for a few years, but they’ve had diesel engines and not included plug-in functionality.
The new plug-in hybrid models allow the car to be recharged and driven purely on electricity, albeit for relatively short distances.
The C-Class has a 60kW electric motor and a four-cylinder turbo-petrol, while the S-Class gets an 85kW motor and a V6 turbo-petrol. In both, the petrol engine kicks in if the driver wants more power – all with the aim of a best-of-both-worlds approach.
Rivals Audi and BMW already have plug-in hybrid offerings, while relative newcomer Tesla has an electric vehicle intended to tempt buyers away from traditional luxury brands.
Mercedes-Benz is pinning its hopes on its advanced plug-in technology.
“No competitor offers more intelligence and efficiency,” said Franz Nietfeld, the Mercedes-Benz program chief for high-voltage systems. “Bringing down CO2 is one of the company’s main goals.”
He said that, as well as the electric motor built into the gearbox and battery pack behind the rear seats, a large part of the system was the “intelligent software” for management of the drivetrain.
“Take for example our predictive operating strategy,” Nietfeld said. “In standard driving mode the vehicle will control the split between electric, driving boost and recuperation and combustion engine in order to ensure the maximum comfort and the minimum consumption.”
The Mercedes plug-in hybrid models have four main driving modes: hybrid for most driving situations; E-Mode to use electricity only where possible; E-Save for saving the battery charge for later use; and Charge Mode, which runs the petrol engine until the batteries are charged.