Mercedes-Benz is currently constructing a battery plant in Kamenz, Germany, the second of five such plants that will be in operation in three continents by the start of the next decade, including one in the United States.
The U.S. plant will be constructed in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, at a cost of $1 billion. It’s where Mercedes already has a vehicle plant that’s earmarked to start construction of electric cars in the coming years.
But this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Mercedes’ electrification plans. The automaker is taking a holistic approach on the road to zero emissions and thus is also focused on improving the emissions of internal combustion engines, offering hybrid options across its lineup, adding hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, and building up the required charging infrastructure for future plug-ins.
“We are placing our emphasis on highly efficient high-tech combustion engines, systematic hybridization and battery-electric or fuel cell drive systems,” Ola Källenius, Mercedes’ R&D chief, said in a statement. “Our approach is deliberately broad in view of our extensive vehicle portfolio and our customers' mobility requirements.”
10 electric cars by 2022
Electric cars are very much the focus of Mercedes’ electrification plans which fall under the auspices of the EQ sub-brand. Mercedes is committed to launching 10 electric cars by 2022, the first of which will be the EQC small SUV starting production in 2019. The second is likely to be an EQA compact hatchback. A total $11.8 billion is being invested to develop these 10 vehicles.
2017 Fuso eCanter
There will be electric commercial vehicles, too. The Fuso eCanter electric truck is already in production and will be followed in 2018 by an electric bus. Mercedes is also developing electric versions of the Metris and Sprinter vans, and one of its truck brands, U.S.-based Freightliner, is developing an electric version of the Cascadia semi-trailer truck for long-distance haulage.
However, Mercedes understands that not everyone is ready for electric cars. The automaker is predicting that electric cars will only account for 25 percent of all sales by 2025, meaning 75 percent of Mercedes’ cars will still have an internal combustion engine. Most of the remaining 75 percent will feature some form of electrification, though. Mercedes will be offering an electrified option on virtually all of its model lines, so pretty much every customer will at least be able to choose a greener option.
Mercedes says plug-in hybrids will play a key role on the road to zero-emission mobility. This is because they offer customers the best of both worlds; in the city they can drive in fully electric mode, while on long journeys they benefit from the combustion engine's range. To underline the important role of hybrids in the process of electrifying the car, the plug-in models from Mercedes will sport “EQ Power” badges (“EQ Power+” in the case of AMG) to link them with the EQ sub-brand.
Mercedes will use plug-in hybrid technology on models sized from the C-Class up. In the smaller categories, the automaker will rely on simpler mild-hybrid systems where an electric motor is used to aid the engine but cannot power the vehicle on its own.
Mercedes also plans to introduce hybrid technology on buses. Already available on the Citaro bus line, the technology, in conjunction with a highly efficient electrohydraulic steering system, has improved efficiency by around 8.5 percent.
Mercedes-Benz GLC F-Cell
Hydrogen fuel cells and internal combustion engines part of the plan
Although battery electric cars are very much in the lead in the race to determine the powertrain of the future, Mercedes, wisely, is keeping its options open. That’s why the automaker is also investigating hydrogen fuel cell technology.
During last month’s 2017 Frankfurt Motor Show, Mercedes presented the production-ready GLC F-Cell. The vehicle is due to enter limited production in late 2019. It is unique in that it can be powered purely by a fuel cell or a battery or a combination of the two, thus making it a hydrogen-electric plug-in hybrid.
Mercedes understands that the lack of hydrogen fueling stations makes fuel cells a hard sell. That’s why the GLC F-Cell has the battery backup, so owners won’t get stranded. The vehicle’s hydrogen tanks store 9.7 pounds of hydrogen, enough for approximately 270 miles of range in the relatively lenient European cycle. Once that runs out, a full charge of the battery will deliver an extra 30-odd miles.
As mentioned above, internal combustion engines still have a bright future at Mercedes, including diesel units. In this area, Mercedes attaches key importance to the optimization of modern, internal combustion engines. In particular, the economical, clean and, especially in Europe, popular diesel engine makes an important contribution to the further reduction of fleet consumption. Areas of focus for all internal combustion engines are improvements in combustion and friction reduction.
As an indication of what is achievable, the Mercedes-AMG Formula 1 team’s power unit passed the 50 percent thermal efficiency for the first time. Thermal efficiency is the potential energy burned in gasoline. Engines, therefore, must extract as much useful work, or power, from fuel as possible. It means more than half of the available energy in the fuel is now doing useful work, not simply being wasted as heat and noise. Many engines only achieve around 35 percent thermal efficiency.
Combined Charging Standard (CCS) electric car charger
Building the charging infrastructure
People are going to need a place to charge all of these future electric cars and plug-in hybrids. Mercedes says that from 2018, high-speed DC charging based on the CCS (Combined Charging System) standard will gradually find its way into its cars. This is the standard that most of the major automakers plan to implement. Consequently, some are teaming up to help roll out charging infrastructure offering up to 350-kilowatt charging capacity, meaning charge times of less than 30 minutes.
We’ve already seen the likes of BMW, Nissan and the Volkswagen Group starting to install CCS charging stations in the United States. And late last year, Mercedes, together with BMW, Ford and the Volkswagen Group, announced a joint venture to install CCS stations in Europe. Construction of the network has already commenced. In phase one of the project approximately 400 stations will be installed in Europe. By 2020 the automakers hope to have thousands in place.
Here in the U.S., Mercedes is the lead investor in independent charging solution provider ChargePoint. a large online network that connects car owners with available charging facilities. Currently offering more than 40,000 charging locations, ChargePoint is the world's leading provider in the electric mobility charging solutions segment and the market leader in the U.S. The plan is to expand the business to Europe in the coming years.