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Electrifying the product portfolio.

  • 7. July 2016
  • Innovation
  • Photo: Daimler
  • Text: Walther Wuttke

“We will be electrifying all Mercedes-Benz model series”: Thomas Weber, Member of the Board of Management of Daimler AG responsible for Group Research and Mercedes-Benz Cars Development

Thomas Weber has been in charge of Group Research at Daimler AG and the development of Mercedes-Benz Cars for over twelve years. In this role he is involved in the most extensive process of technological modification undergone by the motor car since it was invented 130 years ago. He explained which technologies and models the company will be using to face this challenge at the Mercedes-Benz “Road to the Future” TecDay in Stuttgart at the start of June.

MR WEBER, THE GERMAN AUTOMOTIVE INDUSTRY IS OFTEN ACCUSED OF HAVING WAITED TOO LONG TO DEVELOP ALTERNATIVE DRIVE SYSTEMS. WHAT’S YOUR RESPONSE TO THIS CRITICISM?

Thomas Weber: We have a completely different view because for years at Daimler we’ve been spending a lot of money on alternative drive systems and will continue to step up investment in this area. For example, over the next two years alone we will be spending 14.5 billion euros on research and development. Furthermore, around half of this goes into “green” technologies. At Mercedes-Benz Cars 5.4 billion euros will be invested during each of the next two years. We are therefore well prepared for the coming changes, alert and very active.

HOW ARE YOU AIMING TO WIN OVER CUSTOMERS FOR YOUR NEW ELECTRIC VEHICLES?

If the new electric vehicles are to leave their niche, then they need to be exceptionally attractive to customers: that means being suitable for everyday use, environmentally compatible and offering a large portion of driving enjoyment. And obviously the price needs to be right, too. At the same time, it is imperative that the appropriate infrastructure is also put in place. This includes charging stations as well as hydrogen filling stations for our fuel cell models. The acquisition premium for environmentally friendly cars can help in this respect. Incidentally, the fact that the industry is bearing half of these expenses is unique worldwide.

For a long time it has also been clear that vehicles with alternative drive systems will become a familiar sight on our roads at some point. We at Daimler strongly believe that. Which is why we’ve been working on suitable solutions for many years and not just on ones for cars.

WHAT ROLE DO ALTERNATIVE DRIVE SYSTEMS PLAY WITHIN THE CURRENT MODEL RANGE?

We believe that there is no other manufacturer with a comparable portfolio of electric vehicles and solutions addressing aspects of electric mobility on the road. Our range extends from the smart city runabout and the electric B-Class through to commercial vehicles such as the electrically powered Canter from our Fuso brand. Over the coming months we will be “fitting” some more important new products and features into the model range. There is a lot of dynamic activity going on!

Well prepared for the coming changes and alert.

GIVEN THE VARIETY OF ALTERNATIVE POWERTRAIN SYSTEMS SUCH AS PURELY ELECTRIC, HYBRID, PLUG-IN HYBRID AND UPGRADING CONVENTIONAL ENGINES, THE QUESTION IS WHICH ONE IS THE ROUTE TO THE FUTURE. WHICH ROUTE IS DAIMLER TAKING?

Some time ago we decided on a three-lane approach and are focusing on tailor-made solutions in order to cover all future mobility scenarios. For that reason we are also keeping different technology options open. For one thing, we are using all the potential to further develop and optimise our high-tech engines. Secondly, we are focusing on highly systematic hybridisation of the model range to increase efficiency further. And thirdly, we are continuing to work on locally emission-free vehicles with battery and fuel cell drive system.

WHAT FUTURE DOES THE HYBRID DRIVE HAVE AT MERCEDES?

A bright one. We have announced that we are putting ten plug-in hybrid models on the road by 2017. Eight of them have already been launched and the two others will follow in the coming year. What we have achieved in this respect is clear to see. The plug-in hybrid is where our customers start to enter local emission-free driving.

Today the S-Class has an electric range of some 30 kilometres. Next year, as part of the facelift, we will attain a range of 50 kilometres for the first time. We are anticipating further leaps in range by the year 2020 thanks to the continued evolution of lithium-ion batteries.

' You'll be able to travel up to 500 kilometres on a single battery charge. '

LITHIUM-ION BATTERIES ARE PRESENTLY PLAYING THE LEADING ROLE AND WILL CONTINUE TO DO SO IN THE NEAR FUTURE. WHAT COMES AFTER THIS TECHNOLOGY?

We are already concerning ourselves with the “post-lithium-ion generation”, which in our estimation can be deployable by 2025 at the latest. Consequently we are able to speak of considerable leaps in range. We are then talking about distances significantly greater than the ones we are familiar with from today’s electric vehicles.

One thing is clear: the plug-in hybrid combines the best of both worlds. In everyday life, it is possible to complete most journeys with zero emissions if the vehicle is charged on a regular basis. Customers will also appreciate that the dynamism of the driving experience in future will come from the electric motor because it provides full torque right from a standing start. The combustion engine then steps in over longer distances.

WHAT NEW PRODUCTS AND FEATURES CAN WE EXPECT FOR PURELY ELECTRIC VEHICLES?

In 2010 we were the first German manufacturer to bring a vehicle with an electric drive system – the smart – to market. The smart is still the most successful electric model on the German market. In addition, the electric B-Class delivers electric mobility for families and we also have a broad offering for commercial vehicles.

We will carry on pursuing our initiative in future and will be bringing the fourth generation of the smart to market at the end of the year in its two- and four-seater versions with electric drive system. At Mercedes we are laying the foundation for our future electric strategy in the form of a large electric vehicle. We will be presenting a definite perspective on this new vehicle with a 500-kilometre range at the Paris Motor Show in the autumn. We are embedding the components for all electric vehicles, including fuel cell and hybrid models, into a new, shared Mercedes-Benz electric modular system. The structure and also the electric architecture are in place and the components themselves are already fully in development.

In any case, the batteries will continue to be provided by our factory in Kamenz, which is in the process of being extended. Our ACCUmotive subsidiary in future will supply the batteries for all electric models. In future we will be electrifying all Mercedes-Benz model series.

' We are already working on the post-lithium generation, which can be deployed by 2025. '

THE NEXT STEP ON FROM ELECTRIC BATTERY-POWERED TECHNOLOGY IS THE FUEL CELL. HOW FAR HAS DEVELOPMENT ADVANCED HERE?

We have been working on fuel cell technology for 20 years. To date our test vehicles, the B-Class F-CELL and the Citaro FuelCell Hybrid urban bus, have jointly completed around twelve million kilometres in testing. This technology works and the short filling time of less than three minutes is the fuel cell’s big advantage. The next generation is about to launch and thanks to the many improvements – for instance, by using up 90 percent less platinum – we have also been able to lower costs considerably.

In the coming year we will be unveiling our first series-production car featuring this new fuel cell technology. It will be based on the GLC and, in a world first, be brought to market featuring plug-in hybrid technology. This is how we are merging the advantages of the two technologies. In other words, the fuel cell gets a plug. The battery is designed for a range of approximately 50 kilometres and altogether the vehicle can achieve an electric range of up to 500 kilometres in the NEDC thanks to sophisticated energy management.

On the commercial vehicle side, the world’s most successful urban bus, the Citaro, will be available on the market with fuel cell and battery from 2018.

20 years of experience with the fuel cell.

WHAT ROLE WILL THE COMBUSTION ENGINE PLAY IN FUTURE? DOES IT EVEN STILL HAVE A FUTURE?

Over the past 20 years we have halved the average consumption of our car fleet. This major progress would never have been achieved without the diesel drive system. We see plenty of potential for this drive system into the future. Our new OM 654 diesel engine likewise corroborates this, having reduced consumption by another 13 percent. Some variants weigh 30 or even 40 kilograms less than its predecessor. During development, the main priority was delivering a very significant reduction in NOx emissions.

The new drive system is the first of its kind to already meet the highly demanding RDE regulations that will apply from September 2017. We had the engine inspected by independent testers at DEKRA who have confirmed our data. The results are accessible to all. This high-tech diesel drive system generation will be rolled out in all Mercedes models over the next three years.

AND HOW WILL THE PETROL ENGINE FARE?

Next year we will be launching the new generation of our petrol engines. We are introducing a 48-volt on-board electrical system. The boundaries compared to a hybrid vehicle are therefore blurring. With this system it is possible to optimise efficiency further thanks to recuperating braking energy, while at the same time experiencing major gains in comfort.

In this way we will electrify all passenger car model series from Mercedes-Benz step by step. These models will increasingly transition into high-tech cars. What’s more, we’re the first manufacturer in the world to equip our petrol engines with a petrol particulate filter. In future we will also do everything we can to further optimise the efficiency of our drive systems – including for commercial vehicles – alongside the highest standards of environmental compatibility.

' We will electrify all passenger car model series from Mercedes-Benz step by step. '

About the interviewee

Thomas Weber has been in charge of Group Research at Daimler AG and the development of Mercedes-Benz Cars for twelve years.

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