The move follows a long-awaited announcement by the German government that it will begin offering sales subsidies on all EVs priced at less than €60,000 (£47,300) as part of a €1.2 billion (£950 million) electric car purchase incentive scheme.
The plans have been orchestrated by Mercedes-Benz’s outgoing R&D boss, Thomas Weber, and call for four new electric models to join the Mercedes line-up by the end of 2020.
Two electric saloons and two SUVs are expected. Each is set to share the basic elements of a more conventionally powered sibling, including so-called hard points such the windscreen and roof structure. However, there will be unique design touches to make them instantly recognisable as zeroemissions vehicles, according to insiders privy to the proposals for the four models.
The new electric car line-up is aimed at pitching Mercedes into direct competition with Tesla Motors, which has led the electric car push and had solid levels of sales growth since the Model S executive saloon began production in 2012. It also comes in response to recent moves by key rival Audi, which has already announced that it will begin offering a production version of its e-tron quattro concept in 2018 in the first stage of a similar electric car offensive.
A heavy shroud of secrecy surrounds the upcoming electric-powered Mercedes models, although recent comments by Weber suggest the saloons will be based around the C-Class and S-Class and the SUVs will share common links with the GLA and GLC.
Mercedes has intensively studied the idea of bringing stand-alone electric cars with uniquely engineered bodies to showrooms. However, it says the high cost of development, components and production makes it prohibitive at volumes below 50,000 per year during the first generation, even for highpriced models. Its conclusion is backed up by Tesla’s inability to turn a profit since the Model S, which currently has a base price of £51,900 in the UK, first went into production.
The GLA-based model is set to adopt a modified version of the MFA platform currently used beneath Mercedes’ first dedicated electric car, the B-Class Electric Drive. The C-Class, S-Class and GLC-based electric cars will use a newly developed variant of Mercedes’ MRA (Modular Rear Architecture) platform conceived specifically for EV applications and known to insiders as the MEA (Modular Electric Architecture).
The first recipient of this new platform will be the GLC Fuel Cell, due next year. The new hydrogen-powered model, which will be offered to customers on either a limited lease or outright purchase scheme, is described by Weber as a forerunner to Mercedes’ new EV line-up. As well as housing batteries within the floor, its version of the MEA platform features tanks to house the hydrogen.
One of the key elements of the MEA platform is its ability to offer either rear-wheel drive or four-wheel drive in combination with up to three electric motors.
Although it is still early days, insiders at Mercedes’ R&D centre in Stuttgart confirm the company is developing its own range of electric motors, ranging in output from about 75kW (101bhp) to 400kW (536bhp).
A new generation of lithium-ion battery cells from Accumotive will provide the Mercedes EVs with a range of more than 250 miles — the minimum prescribed by Weber to make the new zero-emissions models a practical alternative to their more conventional petrol, diesel and hybrid siblings.