Mercedes Latest Hybrid Announcements Are Déjà Vu Again

The blogosphere will a hundred times echo today’s announcement that Mercedes-Benz will offer hybrid versions of its C-, E- and S-class vehicles in the United States and Europe in about three years. Automotive News quoted Herbert Kohler, head of Daimler’s E-Drive and Future Mobility unit, who said, “We have a leading position in the premium segment concerning alternative propulsion systems, and we will defend it.”

A Daimler source said the C- and E-class full hybrids will be launched in Europe before 2013 and an S-class plug-in hybrid will be launched in 2014—followed by releases in the U.S. about six months later.

Do these announcements of an imminent bright future for Mercedes hybrids sound familiar? That’s because Daimler comments about future hybrids date back at least seven years. In Feb. 2004, Automotive News reported that Daimler will produce hybrids “in the coming years.” At the time, Daimler CEO Deiter Zetsche sounded skeptical. “Although hybrids have been a roaring PR success, the jury is still out if they can be a practical, long-term business-case driven success,” Zetsche said.

Three years later, in Sept. 2007, Zetsche appeared more resolute (or you could save defensive). “We are no longer developing any cars without a hybrid option,” in an interview with Der Spiegel magazine. Following a year of roller-coaster gas prices and intensified environmental legislation, Automotive News reported in Jan. 2009 that Zetsche said Mercedes would “launch at least one new hybrid vehicle a year.”

MB hybrid badge

How many future Mercedes vehicles will carry its hybrid badge?

In Aug. 2009, the company’s first hybrid, the Mercedes S400 mild hybrid, reported its first month of sales: 22 units. The $91,000 sedan has a combined city-highway mileage rating of 23 mpg. By October, Zetsche promised a hybrid version of each of Mercedes’s high-volume cars and a plug-in hybrid in 2012.

By the end of the year, the company had introduced its M-Class SUV hybrid. The Mercedes ML450 is only available for lease—either 36 or 60 months at $659 or $549 per month, respectively. Mercedes cited “limited supply of batteries” as the reason. Mercedes, just getting into the market, managed combined sales/leases of 601 units for the two vehicles for 2009.

Did the company pick up the pace in 2010, as it moved toward becoming a competitive hybrid brand? Not quite. With a few years of production and sales under its belt in 2010, Mercedes put fewer than 2,000 hybrids on U.S. roads— 955 of the S400 mild hybrid sedan and 766 of the ML450 hybrid SUV. Meanwhile, Toyota in 2010 sold more than 15,000 units of the Lexus RX 450h luxury hybrid SUV, and more than 10,000 units of the HS 250h hybrid sedan.

Therefore, when Daimler’s Kohler now talks about a leading position with alternative propulsion in premium, he must be referring to diesel. The company has four so-called “clean diesel” vehicles offered in the United States, and sold 7,558 of them in 2010. (To its credit, Mercedes is planning to shift high volume sales to the new 2012 Mercedes C250—its gas-powered four-cylinder model with direct injection and turbocharging—delivering combined mileage of 24 mpg.)

So, should we be encouraged by today’s announcement that Mercedes will have new hybrids, and that a plug-in hybrid is on the way? Sure. Every new consumer option for a vehicle with a more efficient hybrid drivetrain is a good thing. But until Daimler delivers these vehicles with even better improvements in fuel efficiency, at a competitive price, and in higher volumes, it looks like CEO Deiter Zetsche and his company are still in 2004 mode—seeing hybrids as a PR effort and not a long-term solid proposition.

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  • Charles

    Wow nobody cars about Mercedes. Me included. Over priced, over fueled and over rated.

  • Priusmaniac

    The company is own by Deutsche Bank, owned by the Saoudis. Anything more to say?

    There are a certain number of companies that are opposed to hybrids:

    Mercedes, VW, GM, PSA (would had an hybrid Peugeot 405 back in 1984), Renault, BMW.

  • Yegor

    I do not care about Mercedes but what do I care about is that – Mercedes paid penalty for violating CAFE standards 21 times in 25 years!!!
    And why not to pay penalty when it is only $55 USD per vehicle for every 1 mpg under the standard???!!!
    So if you buy Mercedes S 550 gas guzzler (with 17 MPG combined) which costs $93,000 and produces almost 3 times more air pollution than Toyota Prius you will pay $247 penalty!!! (for violating CAFE by 4.5 MPG)
    Is not it ridiculous? No wonder Mercedes does not bather about Hybrids – it ain’t worth it for them.

    CAFE penalty should be $1000 USD per vehicle for every 1 mpg under the standard otherwise they cannot call it a penalty – it is something for gas guzzlers to laugh about at Environmental consciousness people. CAFE penalty should be called “laugh penalty”!

  • Max Reid

    Renault is the joint owner of Nissan and they already launched Nissan Leaf in USA & Japan.

    Meanwhile Renault will be launching 4 Electric Vehicles in Europe with 1 of them costing only Euro 20,000 before taxes. They are the champions of EVs.

    Exclude Renault from the list. Even GM launched Volt.
    But those 3 German companies (Benz, BMW & VW) are notoriously tied to Oil.

    For now, oil prices are going down because Saudis are supplying more, but as the OPEC spare capacity goes below 1 million b/d, the prices will shoot up again.

  • Max Reid

    French had the expertise in Electric Vehicles since the early 1980s, but the batteries were not powerful enough at that were not powerful enough. They even
    used lead acid batteries to build EVs and sold 10,000 vehicles even before 2000.

    Since 2000 they improved upon Lithium batteries so much that they were able to sell
    Nissan Leaf and similar vehicles for around $ 33,000 and even lesser for some models.

    Their idea is to power the EVs using nuclear power plants in which they are World leaders. Now the time has come for the French to mass produce and sell their EVs

    They even have a EV which can be charged in 17 minutes.

    Germans on the other hand have the lead in Gasoline and Diesel powered vehicles from the days of Daimler, Benz and Diesel. So they will not switch into Hybrids or any EV soon.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t buy into those claims like quick charge for ‘80% in 30 min.’ would not be detrimental to the long-term reliability of the batteries.

  • Anonymous

    “Germans on the other hand have the lead in Gasoline and Diesel powered vehicles from the days of Daimler, Benz and Diesel. So they will not switch into Hybrids or any EV soon.”

    I think I read AMG said every future vehicle will be a hybrid. So will Merc.’s next C, E, S-class.

  • tapra1

    Automotive News reported in Jan. 2009 that Zetsche said Mercedes would “launch at least one new hybrid vehicle a year.”Green News