It doesn't take a weatherman to know which way the wind blows, and Daimler, the parent company of Mercedes Benz, clearly knows that the future is electric. Earlier this year at the Detroit Auto Show they introduced the C350 plug-in hybrid (PHEV), a luxurious ride that Mercedes says will only burn 2.1 liters of fuel per 100 kilometers (equivalent to 112 MPG, though with plug-ins, your mileage will definitely vary, as things depend a lot on how much you drive in electric-only mode), but that was just the start. The company now says that it will launch 10 new plug-in models by 2017, just 2 years away.
"Plug-in hybrids are a key technology on the road to the local emission-free future of the automobile," emphasizes Prof Dr Thomas Weber, member of the Board of Management of Daimler AG and responsible for Group Research and Mercedes-Benz Cars Development. "Plug-in hybrids offer our customers the best of both worlds; in the city they can drive in all-electric mode, while on long journeys they benefit from the combustion engine's range. In addition, hybridization makes the combustion engine more efficient and brings with it a special type of dynamic performance - making driving an absolute pleasure."
It looks like Mercedes plans to turn into PHEVs their vehicles from the C-Class upward, with the GLE SUV being next on the list. I know that for us treehuggers the bigger vehicles are things that we don't even want to think about, but as long as they sell, they're a low-hanging fruit for CO2 reductions, since turning a big giant sedan or SUV into a plug-in will provide a bigger reduction in emissions in absolute numbers. That's why Bob Lutz said that he wishes the Volt had actually been an electric truck.
Hopefully, this is a step toward fully electric vehicles. Plug-in hybrids allow Mercedes to keep the gas/diesel engine as a safety net and to use its expertise there, but hybrids are always a compromise, since they add weight and complexity. Once the company is more comfortable with electric drivetrains, hopefully they stop dipping their toes and jump in with both feet. After all, they were a big investor in Tesla, owning 10% of the company at one point, so they must understand where things are going.
For those keeping track, here are the hybrid and electric vehicles that Mercedes currently has in its lineup, as well as the year when they were launched:
2012: smart fortwo electric drive
2012: E 300 BlueTEC HYBRID
2013: SLS AMG Coupé Electric Drive
2013: S 400 HYBRID
2013: S 300 BlueTEC HYBRID
2014: C 300 BlueTEC HYBRID
2014: B-Class Electric Drive
2014: S 500 PLUG-IN HYBRID
2015: C 350 e
A nice move would be for Mercedes to offer only plug-ins and fully electric vehicles down the line. Its customers can pay, after all, and if what they're looking for is a powerful, quiet ride that has all the latest technologies, you can't beat the electric drivetrain.