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Fleets pushing for electrified Benz vans

Electric dreams: Mercedes-Benz’s first electric commercial van was the Vito E-Cell although it did not make it to Australia.

Mercedes-Benz Vans hoping for electrified models as fleet buyers look to go green

Mercedes-Benz logo31 Oct 2016

By TIM NICHOLSON in STOCKHOLM

UPDATED: 02/11/2016ELECTRIFIED versions of Mercedes-Benz commercial vans could be headed Down Under in the not-too-distant future, with some of the company’s fleet customers pushing for more environmentally friendly powertrains.

Daimler recently detailed its passenger car alternative powertrain strategy – highlighted by the recently revealed EQ SUV coupe from the Paris motor show that will be a production reality within the coming years – and it has started to hint at a greener future for its delivery vans too.

In September, the German giant ripped the covers from its futuristic Vision Van concept that previewed its adVANce initiative, which is a re-imagined delivery service that it says could revolutionise the way that cargo and packages are delivered, using drones and robots.

While few details were provided of the powertrain at the time of the reveal, the van uses a 75kW electric drivetrain that has a driving range of between 80 and 270km.

Further to this, the company also announced in September that it would start series production of a Mercedes-Benz van with e-drive for commercial customers in 2018.

While Mercedes is yet to confirm whether the new electric powertrain will be offered as part of a model line that is already available – for example an electrified Vito or new-generation Sprinter – it said that the van “will meet every expectation of an efficient delivery vehicle”.

Speaking with GoAuto at the reveal in Sweden of the Concept X-Class, Mercedes-Benz Vans Australia managing director Diane Tarr said she was hopeful that electrification of the range would not be far off, adding that the demand was coming from some of the larger fleet customers.

“Hopefully sooner than later,” she said. “I am really keen to support those kind of alternative power options in Australia. We are getting a lot of questions from big fleet customers who are really the drivers and they will be the ones that will dictate that. At the end of the day, we can build a vehicle, but there has to be an appetite for it.

“If our fleets are the ones that are saying, for whatever internal reasons, they want to drive electric vehicles and push that through, then we have to rely on them to drive the demand. As long as we can supply the vehicle. With that they also need to support and we will support the infrastructure that goes with it.”

 center imageLeft: Mercedes-Benz Vans Australia managing director Diane Tarr.Increasingly tight global emissions regulations and a move to more environmentally responsible strategies from large corporations is likely behind the push by some corporates in Australia to roll out more electric options.

Ms Tarr highlighted Mercedes’ history with electrified commercial vehicles and said that expertise could be used in the future.

“We did introduce the Vito E-Cell electric vehicle three-to-four years ago.

Unfortunately it was a little bit ahead of its time. We have already got the electric van credentials through the Vito E-Cell, it is just adapting that into the likes of Sprinter etcetera.”

A new-generation version of the ageing Sprinter is just around the corner and while Mercedes is yet to confirm it, there is a good chance that the company will use the big van to roll-out new EV or PHEV powertrains specifically built for commercial applications.

Volkswagen uncovered an electric version of its new Crafter van in September, but given it no longer shares its underpinnings with the Sprinter, it is unlikely that the Benz would use VW’s green technology for its new-gen van.

Ms Tarr acknowledged that a lack of infrastructure in Australia was “always a challenge” for electric vehicles, and suggested that any possible future electric van would need to have an adequate driving range to properly compete with internal combustion rivals.

“Of course we have got to look at the range. When we start talking about the final mile. It is really that short distance, urban delivery, there are merits for electric vans in that space.”

Currently the Citan small van (not sold in Australia), Vito mid-sizer and Sprinter large van form Mercedes-Benz Vans’ global portfolio, but, as reported, they will be joined in 2017/18 by a production version of the just revealed X-Class ute.

Daimler chairman and head of Mercedes-Benz Cars Dieter Zetsche ruled out a plug-in hybrid or electric version of the new ute, blaming weight and range as reasons to not pursue it this time around.

Mercedes-Benz announced in July the development of a prototype for a 26-tonne battery-powered electric truck that is expected to have a 200km range, while Daimler’s truck brand Fuso is conducting an Australian trial for its eCanter all-electric truck in 2017.

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