Benz EV push powering up

Having put its toe in the water with PHEV fare, Mercedes is now set to immerse more fully into a local electric programme.

Mercedes CLS.jpg

MERCEDES’ battery-enabled push will become less low profile in 2018, with one, if not two, high-level editions coming.

In addition to confirming that it will introduce, by mid-year, a plug-in hybrid edition of the refreshed S-Class, capable of up to 50kms’ pure electric operability, the brand’s local distributor is also dropping big hints about the potential for New Zealand being in line for a similarly-fitted version of the latest generation of the coupe-style CLS sedan (above).

Unveiling of derivatives of the latter began at the Los Angele Motor Show in early December and will continue at the Detroit show, in January. The PHEV S-Class, which is labelled the S560e, was revealed in September at the Frankfurt show.

Mercedes Benz already offers PHEV editions of the C- and E-Class sedans and also has a battery-assisted version of the GLE soft roader, all sold under the EQ Power mantle, but you’d be forgiven for not knowing this, all their penetration has been very low.

However, at a first local market look at the updated S-Class, a spokesman reiterated that the brand is serious about going electric, initially with plug-in hybrid editions of its conventional fossil-fuelled product and, ultimately, with full electric product.

Jerry Stamoulis says Benz regards NZ as a market of special importance, due to Government and public enthusiasm for the tech and because almost all our electricity is generated by Green means.

Even though this status doesn’t give us any particular advantage when it comes to launch timing or supply – our model introductions being tied to Australia’s (where EV interest is much lower and power is generated by ‘dirty’ means, predominantly burning coal) – Benz will still be pushing to ensure its electrics are seen in all the right places, Stamoulis says.

That intent might even see the brand promote the electric S-Class at the highest-level enthusiast base: Our politicians presently ride in diesel BMW 7-Series limos for state business, though this year the service also dabbled with a version with a similar petrol-electric drivetrain to the S560e.

The Government’s limo fleet is cars updated every few years through a tender process.

BMW has had a tight hold of the contract for almost two decades and has previously rebuffed tilts from other top brands, notably Lexus. There is talk that the brand won the business with very sharp price opportunities. IT is thought Benz has never seriously tried for the contract, even though the S-Class is the most popular global choice for this kind of work.

But seems keen to tap into business now, however, with Stamoulis commenting that the S560e’s volume count would depend very much on the outcome of “talks with a certain industry that might be interested. That would dictate the volume, rather than the other way around.”

Stamoulis has suggested his brand would like to see MPs in the car, though he stopped short of suggesting that Benz will seek to engage in a full-out bidding war with its Munich foe to secure the vaunted work.

“We have an attractive offering … I would not call it a battle. We would offer the product that we have. Saying it would be a battle would insinuate that we going to do some extensive discounting. That’s not something that we normally do.

“I’m sure that the product offering is so strong that it will be seriously considered.”

The S560e is intended to sit as an alternate to a numerically identical orthodox 4.0-litre 345kW/700Nm eight-cylinder model that is expected to achieve 80 percent of S-Class volume here in 2018.

Benz has yet to price the PHEV car, which runs a petrol V6 allied to a 13.5 kW hour lithium ion-battery fed hybrid unit, and cannot yet say how closely it will place to the $219,900 S560.

It is expected to offer slightly more power than the eight cylinder petrol – Benz claims a combined output of around 360kW – yet also delivers the same level of thrift afforded by the cheapest of the updated S-Class cars here, the $176,900 diesel S350d.

That S350d’s 210kW/600Nm 3.0-litre six is claimed to offer just 5.4 litres per 100km and a CO2 count of 141 grams per kilometre. The hybrid will be much cleaner, of course.

The electric-assisted car is far more technically advanced. It packs Eco Assist, a system that helps and guides the driver to create the most efficient driving experience with pedal prompts. Pulses in the accelerator pedal have various meanings. For example, a variable point of resistance tells drivers the maximum amount of electric power is being delivered.

Additionally, a double pulse recommends the driver take their foot off of the accelerator, which turns the internal-combustion engine off. The system works in concert with the head-up display, which also provides prompts as to when the driver may be approaching scenarios where coasting is acceptable to activate the S560e's regenerative systems.

Benz has indicated that the diesel S is largely out in this part of the world because it has a strong uptake in Australia; some 60 percent of S-Class’s sold this year were diesel. But the interest in NZ is expected is expected to be marginal.

“The diesel is attractive to Australia and we think that the 60 percent take up might hold. We will sell plenty of hybrids in Australia, but it will be more due to the technical factor than the fuel saving.”

Stamoulis agreed NZ customer interest in Benz PHEV product has not been high.

“But you will see a ramp up with our EQ Power. S-Class will most likely be our first plug-in hybrid with 50km (EV) range and I think, over the next 12 months, you will start to see our EV product portfolio grow.”

Is that the CLS? Head office in Germany has recently identified that several editions of the third generation of this line are likely to incorporate hybrid tech, including the flagship edition, a AMG model with 320kW.

This new CLS53 will join the mechanically identical E53 Coupe and E53 Cabriolet models in a three-strong lineup of new AMG models to be unveiled at Detroit. All three feature a newly developed in-line six-cylinder engine with mild-hybrid properties.

The new powertrain will usher in electric boosting via an integrated starter motor for added performance potential in Mercedes’ answer to the likes of the upcoming Audi S7 and the recently introduced BMW M550i.

The variant will sit above CLS350, CLS450, CLS300d, CLS350d, and CLS400d editions.

As with its predecessors, the latest CLS draws heavily on the current E-Class, from which it borrows its platform, drivelines, chassis, electric architecture and more. It is only issuing in sedan format this time, the wagon-like Shooting Brake version offered in the preceding lineup having not sold strongly enough to convince the brand.