Electric Benz short-circuited by Government

Mercedes has admitted it could have plug-in hybrid cars here almost immediately, but won’t turn on this switch unless Government shows some tangible support to encourage the technology.


THOUGH it has identified prime candidate cars among 17 hybrids on the boil, including a plug-in recharge edition of a new crossover with potential to bump its donor out of No.1 Kiwi status, Mercedes Benz remains wary about selling battery-assist vehicles here unless a subsidy or tax relief is forthcoming.

The world’s oldest car brand, which takes pride in usually being a technology leader, is now the only mainstream luxury brand in New Zealand still without an electric-assist car.

Jerry Stamoulis, the brand’s communications manager for Australasia, admits that’s not an ideal situation, given that overseas his brand is on an eco charge, with 17 petrol or diesel/electric representatives set to join the Benz line-up within the next two years.

Yet he says for electric cars to succeed in New Zealand the Government has to be actively involved in their promotion, particularly with incentive programmes that are common overseas.

“I think we will have something in the New Zealand market … but when is another question, that’s something I cannot answer.

“I think if there was some sort of tax benefit it would speed up the process for us, we would be able to turn it on a lot quicker.

“That (a tax break) would certainly speed up our plans to introduce those vehicles to New Zealand, without a doubt.”

He admits the models are not purely designed just to take some pressure off the world’s dwindling fossil fuel supply and reduce the brand’s average CO2 output across its fleet to 125g/km by 2016.

“We want people to want them … the way we will be selling them is not just from a Green point of view but also as performance editions. We think our potential customers want both – not just the Green part.”

Plug-in recharge derivatives of the existing GLE large off-roader, the S-Class limo and the C-Class sedan are earmarked to go on sale in Australia in 2016 and he agrees all could all conceivably be made available in New Zealand with relatively little difficulty.

Even more appealing for here might be a right-hand-drive battery version of the GLC, a new crossover edition of the C-Class that has just arrived here in orthodox diesel and petrol four-cylinder form to pitch against the BMW X3 and Audi Q5.

The booming state of the crossover/sports utility sector suggests GLC will be a star performer of 2016 for Benz, perhaps even topping the C-Class sedan with which it shares engineering; in 2015 Benz’s top-selling model.

The GLC 350e edition does 0-100kmh in 5.9 seconds and gets up to 235kmh yet emits just 60g/km of CO2 and boasts an optimum economy of 2.6 litres per 100km. It also boasts an all-electric range of 34 kilometres. Its electric motor is good for 85kW and 340Nm while a 2.0-litre direct-injection turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine adds 115kW at 5500rpm, and maximum torque of 350Nm, for a combined 235kW/560Nm.

It sounds appealing but Benz is not in a hurry to try the cars in this country under the current environment of relatively official disinterest even though it knows its rivals are already seeking to spark up some action.

Audi kicked off its e-tron programme with an A3 and will add a Q7 version within 12 months, BMW has two electric prioritised ‘i’ cars and Lexus, of course, has been touting milder hybrids for years.

“The ‘i’ brand is very different to what we do,” Stamoulis said. “E-tron is a lot closer. We’re watching them but, at the same time, we believe that anything we might do has to work for our own philosophy and our own customers.”

However Stamoulis says there’s no impetus to add in electric cars while the Government doesn’t provide some tangible support to promote their use.

What Benz seems to be angling for foremost is a tax incentive if not a subsidy to offset the purchase price, which is often high due to the cost of the technology, especially the batteries.

“Building an electric car is not a difficult thing for our company. It’s about the batteries. Battery technology is more important to us right now and will be something that will be developing.”

It’s a curious double standard from Benz, since it intends to introduce some electrics into Australia, where Government incentives are also lacking.

Also, whereas New Zealand is rich in Green energy – coming from wind, hydro and geothermal – Australia also gets most of its electricity from coal, a dirty source.

However, Stamoulis says the size of the Australian market makes it less of a risk.

“It’s not a high volume (in Australia) ... in fact, we don’t fully know what the volume is. But it is a different scenario. We could quite easily use Australia as a test case for New Zealand. To roll out in New Zealand first would be a harder way of doing it. By doing it in Australia we can, I guess, take that calculated risk.”

He says the jury is still out on the fate of the 350e. It’s not inconceivable that it will be made in right-hand-drive though, at the moment, that programme has not been ticked off. “But it’s not available at this very moment.”