Monday, August 12, 2013

EVs a challenge for Benz

Electric B-Class and Vito under study but far from confirmed
Software tuning and competitive pricing are among the issues that need resolving before Mercedes-Benz green lights the local sale of pure electric vehicles.

The B-Class Electric Drive and Vito E-Cell van are on the list of plug-in green models being considered by Mercedes-Benz Australia-Pacific, but they are still some way from being signed off.
On top of the normal issues that beset electric vehicles and their suitability for the Australian market, the Spanish-built Vito E-Cell, which derives its power from 60kW electric motor drawing charge from a 36kWh lithium-ion battery pack, has the added complication of not being offered with air-conditioning.
“For us to sell that vehicle in Australia it would have to have air-conditioning,” M-B A-P senior corporate communications manager David McCarthy told motoring.com.au.
“We have looked at a number of local suppliers including the people who did the electric Commodore [EV Engineering]. They have the expertise but it is making the business case.”
McCarthy said the B-Class Electric Drive, which was revealed in production form at the 2013 New York auto show, has to be investigated by M-B A-P.
“The B-class Electric Drive has to be made available in right-hand drive to us, has to be compatible with our grid and has to be at a price we can do it,” he explained.
Powered by a 100kW electric motor and lithium-ion battery pack developed with Tesla Motors, the five-door wagon goes on-sale in the USA in early 2014 and will later be sold in Europe. It is claimed to provide a range beyond 160km.
“I think the B-Class Electric Drive and an electric Vito have good possibilities but it is hard making a business case for them,” admitted McCarthy. “It is not top of the page but it is something we are working on.”
M-B A-P has learned the hard way that finding EVs and other green vehicles it can sell in Australia isn’t easy, even when it is keen to do so, citing a failed bid to import the Smart ForTwo Electric Drive as an example.
“We wanted to bring a small number in and where we struck a problem was in the recharging software in the car and the cable. Now the cable is probably not that problematic, the real issue was in the software in the charging to suit our grid.
“You have to think electricity goes from 110 to 240 volts and there are all these different amps. Our ratings in Australia weren’t included in the software of the electric Smart so that’s why we couldn’t get it.”
McCarthy said the same problem could apply to the S 500 plug-in hybrid that debuts at the Frankfurt show in September.
“It has to be made in right-hand drive, it has to be compatible with our grid and it has to be positioned at a price where we can sell some.”
Meanwhile, Benz’s Renault Kangoo-based Citan light van has a different issue delaying its arrival in Australia. While it has gained notoriety for its three star Euro NCAP score, McCarthy says specification issues are the reason it has disappeared from the confirmed list.
“We want two wheelbase lengths and we want an automatic diesel, which isn’t available to us currently,” he explained. “I expect in the next month or so we will have more clarity around it.
“It’s a low volume vehicle, probably only 250-400 sales per year.”
He said the three star rating was “being discussed and worked on”.