Mercedes-Benz is gearing its future vehicle strategy around a greater uptake of plug-in hybrids than full electric cars, according to the company’s head of development, Thomas Weber.
Speaking at the launch of the Mercedes C-class estate, Weber said that there were still “a lot of questions” surrounding the take-up of EVs, with many buyers remaining unconvinced by a lack of charging infrastructure.
“So far around the world there has been huge discussion, small demand,” he said. “It’s not only linked to whether there are cars available to buy; the second question is whether there is an infrastructure available where you can charge your vehicle.”
Although Mercedes is producing a small number of electric models, such as the B-class Electric Drive and Smart ForTwo Electric Drive, it will focus on plug-in hybrid technology for the larger cars in its line-up, with the Mercedes Rear-wheel Architecture (MRA) designed to accommodate PHEV technology.
“We believe that for C-class upwards, the only way to go as we near 2020 and beyond is plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. We will have a plug-in S-class in September, and later in the life cycle of the C-class we will have one too. MRA will make it possible for us to go for plug-in hybrids across the range,” said Weber.
There will be a hybrid version of the new Mercedes-Benz C-class estate, the C300 BlueTec Hybrid.
Weber added that the future development of EVs would continue to rely heavily on financial support from national governments: “Drivetrains for EVs, including plug-in hybrids, are more expensive than conventional drivetrains, based on limited volume.
“It will be important what the governments in countries are doing to support this early phase. It comes down to subsidies [although] maybe without money you can have benefits such as parking for free, special lanes during traffic jams and so on.”
Nevertheless, Weber believes both full EVs and plug-ins will gain in popularity, and play an integral role in Mercedes-Benz’s target to bring its fleet average CO2 emissions down to 100g/km by 2020.
“I’m still optimistic that in the coming years this kind of technologies will see at least a stronger growth rate than we see today. We still believe electric vehicles based on fuel cells will be part of the story and for the large vehicles, we will see a growing share of plug-in hybrids,” he said.