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Mercedes-Benz eyes BMW’s i8, but has other plans

Power point: Mercedes-Benz has an EV – the B200 Electric Drive – but says infrastructure is needed in Australia before the cars become commonplace.

Benz cool on EVs, plug-in hybrids for now, but will keep an eye on BMW i3 and i8

24 Jun 2014

MERCEDES-BENZ said it will hold off on launching plug-in hybrid models in Australia for the time being, but it is keeping a close eye on rival BMW's progress with its i3 and i8 electrified range.

The German car-maker currently offers a number of plug-in models in its European home market, including the petrol-electric S500 Plug-in Hybrid as well as the B200 Electric Drive, which is a fully battery powered rechargeable car.

The S500 limo has been ruled out for the local market and the B200 is unlikely to appear Down Under anytime soon.

Mercedes-Benz Australia said it is not currently planning to bring the C350 petrol-electric plug-in hybrid – due on sale in Europe next year – to Australia, but added there is a chance it could be introduced down the track.

Meanwhile, German rival BMW's i3 compact hatch, available as a fully electric vehicle or range-extender hybrid, arrives in Australia in October, while the i8 petrol electric plug-in hybrid supercar will arrive here in March 2015.

Mercedes-Benz Australia senior manager of public relations, product and corporate communications David McCarthy told GoAuto that the Stuttgart-based car-maker will be keeping an eye on its arch rival.

“We're watching with interest,” he said.

“We’ve looked at an electric Smart car and we produce an electric car – a B-Class, but we don’t think the current market is sufficient. Australians don’t buy electric cars.”

Apart from the market not being ready, Mr McCarthy said that sufficient infrastructure, such as charging stations, need to be developed and built in Australia before electric vehicles can become mainstream.

Another factor is the origin of the electricity. Plug-in electric vehicles may have low emissions at the exhaust pipe, but according to the CSIRO, 75 per cent of Australia’s electricity is generated by burning coal.

This adds to the reason why, for now, Mr McCarthy said Benz is sticking to hybrids which generate their electricity on-board in Australia.

“Our concern about electricity ultimately is where it is generated,” Mr McCarthy said. “The way that the electricity is generated in the E300 and S300 is predominantly from recovering energy from the vehicle rolling and braking.” Hydrogen fuel-cell technology is an alternative to plug-in power and Mercedes-Benz’s B-Class F CELL is the first production car from the brand to use the technology.

The electricity supply is renewable and generated on-board through a chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen. The only waste product is pure water, but again, infrastructure is required in the form of hydrogen re-fuelling stations.

In the meantime Mercedes will watch the arrival of BMW’s i8 and i3 in the coming months with curiosity.

“I think particularly i8 and at $300,000 is going to be a challenge, but the technology is impressive and good luck to them.” Mr Carthy says that without charging stations, owners of electric vehicles will suffer 'range anxiety'.

“At the moment it is predominantly an inner city and suburban fuel.”

If electric charging stations do take off in Australia, Mr McCarthy said that the company would introduce electric vehicles, both hybrid and fully electric, into the local market.

“Don’t forget we own 10 percent of Tesla,” Mr McCarthy said, referring to Mercedes' share of the US-based electric vehicle company, Tesla Motors.

Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk recently announced that he would share his company’s patented technology with any car-maker with the goal being to spur the growth of the electric vehicle market.

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