Mercedes Takes Swiss Army Knife Approach to Electric Cars

The recently unveiled Mercedes-Benz BlueZero concept vehicles are built with the flexibility to insert electric, plug-in hybrid, and fuel-cell technologies into the same exact vehicle design.

It’s easy to dismiss the BlueZero sketches as just another cool green concept car that will never see the light of day, but it could be a glimpse into a future lineup of small Mercedes cars with varying degrees of electric power.

Definition: B-Class

The term B-class refers to subcompacts about the size of the Ford Fiesta or Hyundai Accent. The A-class is slightly smaller, although not as small as a Smart car.

This is not the first time that Daimler, the maker of Mercedes and Smart cars, has taken a Swiss army knife approach. The first generation Smart car was built with a “sandwich” platform that can handle conventional gas engines as well as alternative powertrains. In addition, Daimler used the A-class as the basis for 60 F-Cell fuel cell vehicles running on the streets of Berlin and Los Angeles.

Daimler F-Cell fuel cell vehicle
Smart ED in Berlin

Flexible designs allow a Mercedes A-class to take a fuel-cell drivetrain, and the Smart ForTwo to go electric. These vehicles are running in pilot programs in Europe and California.

Daimler previously announced that its next generation FCV will be built on the B-class chassis in 2010. Migrating to the BlueZero should only be a minor adjustment. Daimler’s future electric cars could also shift to the BlueZero—because the guts of the electric cars already fit in the smaller Smart and A-Class.

General Motors adds steroids (and fantasy) to the idea of building in flexibility. Its “skateboard” design potentially allows consumers to swap out various car bodies, seating configurations and power systems. That’s also the core idea behind GM’s “e-flex” architecture—the underlying basis for the Chevy Volt. GM swapped out the Volt’s 1.0-liter three-cylinder gas engine with a 1.3-liter four-cylinder diesel engine, and modified the body style, to produce a plug-in hybrid concept for the European market: the Opel Flextreme.

The General Motors futuristic “skateboard” design, as described on The Discovery Channel.

Sharing platforms and technology architectures allows car companies to telescope development and production timelines, which can stretch out for years. And it helps to save money on rolling out advanced new models at a time when cost remains the biggest obstacle to introducing the latest whiz-bang auto technologies.

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  • Sherry

    We seriously need to get on with the business of becoming energy independent. While we are doing the happy dance around the pumps with the lower prices OPEC is planning yet more production cuts and will not quit until they achieve their desired price per barrel. The record high prices this past year have done serious damage to our economy and society. It would cost the equivalent of 60 cents per gallon to charge and drive an eelctric car. If all gasoline cars, trucks, and suv’s instead had plug-in electric drivetrains, the amount of electricity needed to replace gasoline is about equal to the estimated wind energy potential of the state of North Dakota.WE must move forward with energy independence. We have the knowledge, we have the technology, what America lacks is a plan. Jeff Wilson has a new book out that is beyond awesome. The Manhattan Project of 2009 Energy Independence NOW. He walks you through every aspect of oil, what it is used for besides gas, our depletion of it. The worlds increased need ie 3rd world countries becoming more modernized and consuming more. He explains EVERY alternative energy source and what role they can play to replace oil. His research is backed up with hard data and even includes a time frame and proposed legislative agendas to wean America off oil.

    He also has a VERY interesting article posted on the Better Place Blog called How Much Electricity Would It Take To Replace Gasoline you can read it at…

    Better Place is the company that is going to be setting up the infrastructures for supporting electric car use in San Jose, San Fransisco, Oakland as well as Hawaii. On the upper right hand side of their web site you can sign an online petition to bring similar projects to your area.

  • Anonymous

    The Volt is lame, however I do want an Opel Flextreme. The Europeans always get the cool cars and we are stuck with sedans. Then GM wonders why I don’t buy one of their cars. On a side note GM simply has way too many models, sell the same damn car everywhere, it works for other companies.

  • AP


    I think electric vehicles will have a significant place in the future, but I think people underestimate the environmental effect of using wind mills to remove that much energy from the air, especially if it is released somewhere else. Besides the huge expense of a wind infrastructure, which is always understated, the danger to wildlife and change in wind currents could throw off animal habitats.

    From a global standpoint, our resources would be better spent on nuclear electric plants. It would be much quicker, safer, and cheaper. Plus it would be much less unsightly.

  • Dan L

    AP, do you realize that nuclear electric puts more energy into the air (as waste heat) per unit of generated electricity than wind power takes out?

  • Boom Boom

    There is no evidence that reaching 20 or 30% wind energy will do anything to the wind patterns. That is utterly ridiculous. There are drawbacks to wind power. It can be more expensive. It requires more transmission. Nuclear, too, has some rather significant drawbacks, like waste disposal and catastrophic failures.

    Claiming that wind power is going to have an environmental effect by “removing energy from the air” is the same as claiming that babies all over the US will be born with two heads if we build another nuclear power plant. Neither is a reasonable criticism.

    I’m not anti-nuclear. I think that to reach energy independence, we’ll need a mixture of renewable and non-renewable clean electricity. But I wish that anti-wind folks would use valid arguments instead of fear-mongering.

  • Dom

    I agree with anonymous… forget the Volt. Build the Opel Flextreme instead. I’ll take a diesel engine instead of the gasoline engine any day. And I don’t like sedans at all.

  • Jo. A. Borras

    Agree 100% with Boom-boom. If wind power generators are going to make these supposed huge differences in current wind patters, so too must cars, skyscrapers, dams, bridges, pyramids (not that we’ve built many of those in the past few thousand years, but still!) … it just seems like a very bizarre claim.

  • Gone with the wind


    Do you know the amount of wind energy there is in our atmosphere? A windmill is perhaps 150-300 ft tall while a plane flys at 35,000 ft. All that wind between the top of the wind mill and the plane is unaffected not to mention the air mass above the airplane. If we covered the netire world with wind mills we would harness perhaps one millionth of the avaialbe energy. Definely not a concern.

  • GOK

    The skateboard doesn’t have anything to do with the volt…
    This is the AUTOnomy which was GM answer to the high cost of fuel cells in 2002. I believed they dropped the idea. Where did you get your information for this article?

  • donee

    Hi All,

    Global Warming might also be called Global Atmosphere Energization. So, taking energy out of the wind, would probably be synergistic with reducing CO2 emisions to reduce climate change. Just an educated guess on my part.

  • Samie

    Silly if you ask me maybe its our culture but it seems peps love to talk about one alternative energy other another. The only way some alternatives will work efficiently is to place them were they are optimal. Eg. wavetitle on coasts, wind in plains, coasts, or mountain ridges, solar in arid areas ect… Yes nuclear is needed but like others this has huge problems eg. waste disposal and competing interest for water resources so unlike crazy biofuel schemes alternative energy can be done but using a mix approach realizing that it will be along time before coal is phased out.

  • Anonymous


  • Adianing Utari

    I like Mercy B-class F-cell its the most elegance car.