It looks like Mercedes has caught hybrid fever. In August, the company launched its Mercedes S400 mild hybrid—the first hybrid from a European automaker and the first hybrid vehicle to use a lithium ion battery. Even more impressive, Dieter Zetsche, CEO of Daimler, is promising a hybrid version of each of Mercedes’s high-volume cars and a plug-in hybrid in 2012.
The $89,000 Mercedes S400 mild hybrid began arriving in US showrooms in August. The S400 hybrid is the lowest-price model in the S-class range—and yesterday was awarded a federal tax credit of $1,150 awarded this week. At the same time, the S400’s mileage rating of 19 mpg in the city and 26 on the highway is 30 percent more fuel efficient than the more expensive S550. Efficiency gains come from the 120-volt battery pack, which is neatly packaged in the engine compartment—unlike other hybrids that use trunk space for the batteries.
The tradeoff of efficiency for horsepower reflects a shift in the luxury market. The Mercedes S550 delivers 382 horsepower versus the S400’s 275 hp. “I am convinced that many customers continue to want a comfortable and spacious car. They would not like to be called callous by their neighbor because the fuel consumption is astronomic,” Zetsche said in an interview with Automotive News. “We have to provide fun without pain by being able to offer these kinds of attributes in a vehicle and with lower fuel consumption.”
Mercedes-Benz will trumpet the S400 hybrid in a green ad campaign beginning in early 2010. Mercedes expects the S400 hybrid to account for 10 percent of S-class sales—which will add up to about 2,000 sales in a year.
Mercedes Plug-ins On the Way
More Mercedes hybrids are headed into production. A Mercedes M-class hybrid SUV, the ML450 Hybrid, with an expected fuel economy of 21/24, is scheduled to arrive by the end of this year, and hybrid gas-electric versions of the C and E classes are expected in the next year or two. When the S class is redesigned in 2012, Mercedes will launch the S500 plug-in hybrid with close to 20 miles of all-electric range, thanks to a 10 kilowatt-hour lithium battery pack.
Mercedes is not going to stop with a plug-in hybrid. The company wants a pure electric car and fuel cell vehicle on the market in the next few years. Zetsche views all of these electric-drive technologies as a continuum. “It starts with the stop-start unit, goes from a mild hybrid to a full hybrid, and then you come to a standard where it flip-flops—electric is the main power and combustion is an add-on,” said Zetsche. “It ends with electric, be it fuel cell or battery electric.”
Daimler today announced that it selected Hambach, France, as the location for future mass production of the electric version of its Smart ForTwo. “The smart ForTwo Electric Drive proves that emission-free driving in an urban environment is already feasible today,” Zetsche said. Initial production of 1,000 vehicles will begin this year—for test evaluation in Europe and the US—with “series” production of the Smart ForTwo Electric Drive (ED) expanding in 2012.
Zetsche believes that it’s too risky to bet on any single technology. “This will be a gradual changeover from one technology to the other. In between, there will be hybrids and plug-in hybrids for quite some time.”