Alongside conventional internal combustion engines, the various electric drives are playing an ever more important role. 'In developing our drives, we are proceeding on three fronts. Apart from continuously optimising our conventional drives, we are developing hybrid technology, including plug-in hybrids, as well as all-electric vehicles. We are not confining ourselves to certain model series, but are looking at the complete range from smart to S-Class,' explains Jürgen Schenk, Chief Engineer for Electric Vehicles at Daimler.
As far as developers are concerned, this approach signifies an extra task: future models must be designed to allow easy electrification without sacrificing any of the typical Mercedes-Benz qualities. The spectrum extends from simple hybridisation, i.e. the interaction of internal combustion engine and electric motor, to the combination of electric and hybrid drive in plug-in hybrids to full electrification. This trend will also benefit in the near future from range optimisation, because, 'in the coming years,' says Schenk, 'battery technology will undergo further development. Every year, we see an around eight percent improvement, which means that, by the end of this decade, we'll have a range well above 400 kilometres.'
For Daimler, the trend is clearly towards all-electric mobility, which is why there has been a deliberate decision against range extension using an internal combustion engine. There is a clearly defined allocation of roles. Customers who require a vehicle for long distances can choose from the plug-in models in the range. Also with this technology, the range will increase significantly in the coming years. 'As we refuse to impose any limitations on our customers, we're not going down the range extension route, which turns a car, for example on the motorway, into a rolling obstacle owing to the limited top speed,' says Schenk.
Ultimately, however, the breakthrough of electric mobility will also be a question of economics. If the customer finds that electric mobility is less expensive than conventional technology, and once range (400 to 500 kilometres) and charging time (20 to 30 minutes) have been optimised, sentiment will flip in favour of electric mobility. 'We believe this is likely to happen by the end of the next decade,' says Schenk, daring to take a look into the future. With appropriate political support, it may happen even sooner, adds Schenk.
Apart from the currently still critical issues of range and charging time – on both counts, e-cars will in the coming years close the gap on conventional models through an improved range of at least 400 kilometres and a fast-charging time of 20 minutes – the aspect of driving pleasure must not be neglected, says Schenk. 'If we can successfully bring those three elements together, there will be no alternative to electric mobility,' he confidently predicts.