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Benz bets on plug-in hybrids

Switched on: Mercedes will follow the launch of the C350 Plug-In Hybrid (below) in the fourth quarter with the introduction of the frugal S500 plug-in (left) late this year or early 2016.

Mercedes’ plug-in hybrid roll-out to start this year with C350 then S500

15 Jun 2015

MERCEDES-BENZ will kick off its Australian roll-out of plug-in hybrid models later this year with the arrival of an electrified C-Class, as its key rivals BMW and Audi get set to launch their own plug-in players.

Daimler AG board member and head of research and development Thomas Weber last year confirmed that Benz would release 10 new plug-in hybrid models in Europe by 2017, covering passenger car and SUV model ranges.

In Australia, that will start with the C350 Plug-In Hybrid sedan and Estate in the final quarter of the year, which will likely sit alongside the existing C300 BlueTec mild Hybrid that is already available Down Under.

Beyond the C-Class, the S-Class-based S500 Plug-In Hybrid limo will follow either late this year or early 2016, while a PHEV version of the next-generation E-Class is likely in 2017.

SUVs are also getting the plug-in treatment, with the GLE (formally ML-Class) to be available with the tech, while Benz’s forthcoming GLC mid-size crossover will be offered in plug-in guise, possibly later next year.

Speaking with media at the CLA Shooting Brake launch in Melbourne last week, Mercedes-Benz Australia/Pacific CEO Horst von Sanden said while the company was not expecting huge take-up of the electrified variants Down Under, the overall drive quality of the plug-ins will appeal to local buyers.

“We believe, again despite all the discussions on energy and how is energy produced, we believe that the cars are so good that it is a real alternative these days, and we will try to price them as sensibly as we can,” he said.

“There is no doubt people are only prepared to pay so much of a premium for having plug-in hybrid. But we believe there is a market for it, it won’t be massive, it's early days. But with what the product can do and the drive quality, we are determined to bring it.” At the moment the C300 BlueTec mild hybrid sedan is offered from $74,900, plus on-roads, which represents a $4500 premium over a C250 BlueTec diesel at $70,400. A plug-in version could attract a larger premium, but Mercedes is yet to confirm pricing for the C350 PHEV.

Mr von Sanden said Mercedes would ensure that pricing does not put the technology out of reach from buyers already looking at the range.

“There is no secret those cars are more expensive to produce. We are not a charity, we are a company that needs to make a profit. We need to make sure that the positioning is close enough to the regular combustion engine that it is not a barrier for someone …” When asked if Mercedes was keeping an eye on American electric vehicle manufacturer Tesla and its popularity Down Under, Mr von Sanden said the competition was not a concern for now, with Benz more focused on bringing the plug-in line-up in.

“At the moment … our focus is on launching it successfully (rather) than thinking about competing too much. We need to establish the credentials for the cars and then we see how we go.” The C350’s powertrain is a combination of 2.0-litre turbo-petrol engine and 60kW electric motor powered by a 6.2 kWh battery, producing a peak output of 205kW/600Nm for a 0-100km/h acceleration time of 5.9 seconds in the sedan.

It sips as little as 2.1 litres of fuel per 100 kilometres on the combined cycle, and the C350 Plug-In Hybrid has an electric-only range of 31km.

In terms of Benz’s German rivals, Audi looks set to be first to market with a plug-in hybrid model with its compact A3 e-tron hitting showrooms in July, after being delayed from its original launch timing of March this year.

According to Audi Australia senior product communications executive Shaun Cleary, production of the electrified A3 has commenced, and interested buyers can check out versions of the cars in showrooms now.

“We actually have our first pre-production cars in dealerships for display, but the first customers deliveries will occur from July,” he said. “As you can imagine, production starts quite slowly for a model with such unique drivetrain technology, considering it’s also built on the same existing line as the other A3 Sportbacks.” This will be followed by the Q7 e-tron later in 2016, while the recently revealed R8 e-tron sportscar is also a possibility for Australia, but if it gets the green light it would be unlikely to arrive before 2017.

Audi's next-gen A4, due next year, and the replacement for its A8 flagship which should surface in 2017, are both likely to feature the technology.

Meanwhile, BMW Australia has confirmed that the plug-in hybrid X5 xDrive40e SUV will arrive in showrooms Down Under in the first half of next year.

The powertain matches a 180kW/350Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine featuring BMW's TwinPower turbo technology, with a 15.4kWh electric motor for combined power of 230kW. It has an official European combined fuel rating of 3.3-3.4 litres per 100 kilometres and carbon dioxide emissions of 77-78grams per kilometre.

BMW Group Australia general manager of corporate communications Lenore Fletcher told GoAuto that any other plug-in variants of key models, including the recently revealed sixth-generation 7 Series, are to be confirmed.

Swedish car-maker Volvo will add a plug-in version of its XC90, dubbed the T8, later in the year, following the roll-out of the rest of the range that starts in August.

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