Mercedes-Benz sees a future for diesel well into 2030s, despite the clamour by politicians to ban the sale of diesel cars by then.
Johannes Reifenrath’s official title is head of Mercedes-Benz Cars product strategy and planning. In practical terms it means he heads up a team of 100 people creating all the concepts and future model plans for Mercedes-Benz. It’s his team’s job to forecast the future within the minimum margin of error. Getting it wrong can prove very costly.
While he’s preparing for a fleet of electric and hydrogen cars of the future, he still sees diesel as playing a significant role. “Diesel is still the most frugal combustion engine technology and there will not be much that changes that in the future. We have a new generation of diesel engines and we have put a lot of money in them,” he says.
“From my point of view, there should be no reason not to sell them and I’m not sure that all the discussions we are having in Germany and other parts of the world are based on solid arguments, but rather more on political interests.
“Take India, which has proposed a diesel sales ban by 2030. The most polluting power plants are in India: 1,377g of CO2 per kilowatt hour. Yes you can have fully electric cars in India, but in my mind things we decide should make sense. If you use that amount of emissions for the electricity, you will have more CO2 when producing the electric cars in the total, than on conventional cars. And then you run them and they are not zero CO2 and the ongoing emissions will be in total higher than a good combustion engine. Maybe we are in a popularity contest now but I hope that politicians have some sense. Ultimately what we do has to make sense.”
Reifenrath is currently working on models that will come to market between 2025 and 2039, a period when most predict the motor industry will go through its greatest revolution since Carl Benz applied for his patent in 1886.
“There will be more mind-changing technology than in the past. Mostly our business has been evolutionary, but now it is becoming revolutionary and that’s an interesting phase for my team. I address this by having more and more young people in my team. The average age is now 25 to 28, very highly qualified and many of them with widely varied backgrounds. I have one guy on the team who is a professor with two doctorates and he’s just 31 years of age. He is specialised in physics and batteries.”
As to the tighter restrictions on emissions, Reifenrath accepts “traditional powertrain options will no longer be enough to meet them”. “In addition, municipal authorities are introducing measures to curb pollutants in downtown areas, and I can agree with that. Our answer to that is EQ. With this brand we want to make electric mobility more attractive to both our customers and society at large. We have set ourselves ambitious targets. By 2025 we expect that 15-20 per cent of all cars we sell will be fully electric. To me at the same time it is clear that we have to be prepared to consider that electric mobility.”
Mercedes is taking a multifaceted approach. “The reason is simple,” says Reifenrath. “The transition to electric mobility will not happen overnight and not everywhere at the same time. It will take place at different paces in various regions of the world. Our strategy takes this into account.”
Reifenrath was speaking at the launch of the premium car giant’s new range of plug-in hybrids. Already the company is adding mild-hybrid across its range, with the facelifted C-Class the latest to feature the 48-volt battery support. Now comes a wave of more electrified hybrids, complete with plugs.
The first Mercedes-Benz models to come with the plugs will be the E-Class arriving in Irish showrooms in January, followed by the C-Class plug-in hybrids next June. What distinguishes these plug-in hybrids from rivals is that these will come in both petrol and diesel guise.
Best of both worlds
A diesel plug-in hybrid would seem to offer the best of both worlds in terms of the ability to do 50km in full electric mode but also have the fuel economy and range of a diesel engine. Others have tried diesel hybrids in the past, but with diesel engines more expensive than petrol, total prices for such cars have been too high for market acceptance. All eyes on Mercedes then to see if they have squared that circle.
For the E300de diesel plug-in hybrid, power comes from a 1,950cc four-cylinder diesel engine putting out 194bhp, combined with a 90Kw electric motor with a 13.5kw/h battery. The end result is a combined output of 306bhp and 700Nm of torque, which delivers a 0-100km/h time of just 5.6 seconds. The official emissions figure is just 42g/km, with a claimed fuel economy of 1.6l/100km (177mpg). Engineers say the fully charged battery can run the car solely on electric power for up to 50km.
For the E300e petrol hybrid, a 1,991cc 211bhp four-cylinder petrol is combined with the same electric battery system to deliver a combined 320bhp and 700Nm of torque, with a 0-100km/h time of 5.7 seconds, and emissions of 45g/km. The official fuel economy figure is 2 l/100km (141mpg).
There are no prices as yet for the plug-in hybrid cars, so we can only guess based on the current rivals that prices will be at the upper end of the range, circa €80,000.
However, potential buyers will not only face the dilemma of price: they are also faced with a choice between battery or bootspace. The rechargeable battery back swallows 130 litres of bootspace in the E-Class, like carrying an Ikea flatpack Billy bookcase in the boot all the time. It certainly limits the chances for owners to load up two golf bags on a Saturday morning.
While many motorists will appreciate the lower emissions – and thereby the lower motor tax bill and better fuel economy – the lesson from earlier versions of the Lexus GS suggests premium buyers put practicality ahead of economic performance. Instead these buyers may prefer to wait for the much-anticipated EQC full-electric crossover.
“By 2022 the family of fully electric cars will have grown to 10 vehicles, ranging from small Smart cars to big SUVs. The emphasis will be on maximum flexibility, both in terms of range and output,” says Reifenrath.
The company is also promoting its latest hydrogen-powered fuel cell model, boasting a range of 478km on a single tank. The F-Cell crossover, based on the current GLC, is also hybrid, so you can run on 51km on full electric and then 427km on hydrogen. Mercedes-Benz will not confirm total production but expect it to be in line with the current fuel cell test car, a variant of the B-Class, of which just 200 were built. And given that there is currently no hydrogen refuelling stations in Ireland, don’t expect to see it around these parts any time soon.
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