As alternative powertrains move towards the mainstream, there is increasing pressure to create versatile platforms capable of handling a range of propulsion systems without huge development costs on each individual model. Volvo has SPA, Volkswagen has MQB and now Mercedes has used TecDay in Stuttgart to announce a dedicated platform for pure electric cars, alongside plans for wireless EV charging and a hydrogen plug-in hybrid SUV.
The biggest hurdles to broader adoption of electric vehicles can be put into two columns: cost and range. On the cost front, the adoption of a dedicated electric vehicle platform allows parts to be shared, which makes it cheaper for Mercedes to develop and produce cars.
That logic is nothing new, and everyone from BMW to Subaru is creating modular underpinnings able to be used and adapted across a whole range of different sized cars. Where the Mercedes EV platform aims to set itself apart is with range, and lots of it.
Thanks to lithium-ion batteries from a Daimler subsidiary called Accumotive, the German giant claims its future electric cars will be able to cover more than 500 km (311 mi) on a single charge, putting their range up there with the best Tesla can manage at the moment.
Even with this range boost, the company accepts the fact battery power won't be able to cover everybody's full range of driving needs. They will, however, be useful for 90 percent of around-town driving and even the occasional longer jaunt, provided you know there's charging at the other end of your trip.
"You can blame a sports car for not offering room for nine, an RV for not fitting in an underground car park and a smart electric drive for not being suitable for driving from Hamburg to Rome," said Dr. Thomas Weber, who is responsible for Research and Development within Daimler. "But that is misleading. An electric vehicle is certainly not the right answer yet for people who regularly drive long distances between cities or on the motorway."
"But who actually does that?" he continued. "In reality, the usage profile of many cars is actually quite different. If you're a motorist, ask yourself how many days a year you drive more than 50 or 100 kilometers at a stretch."
Weber is also positive about the pace at which electric technology will progress over the next decade. As well expecting the energy density of batteries to double over the next 10 years, he says costs will be cut in half as post-lithium-ion battery technologies like lithium-sulphur become widespread.
In the meantime, Mercedes will focus on rolling out hybrid technology across its whole range. Those hybrids won't just combine gas power with batteries, but also fuel cells in the new GLC F-Cell Hybrid SUV.
Drawing on experience gained with hydrogen buses, Mercedes is promising a pure electric range of about 50 km (31 mi) from the 9 kWh plug-in battery. Drawing on 4 kg (9 lb) of hydrogen stored in floor-mounted carbon fiber tanks, the total combined range is expected to be around 500 km.
Charging up your hybrid battery is set to become less of a hassle, too, come the launch of next year's update for the S500e. Mercedes has been refining the system has been in testing since 2015, and transmits energy from a floor-mounted primary coil to a secondary coil in the car's floor. The driver is alerted when the system is within range, at which point charging starts.
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