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Mercedes-Benz plugs into EV van strategy

Delivery charge: Last year’s Vision Van concept has an all-electric powertrain and Mercedes is aiming for mass-produced electric vans by the end of this decade.

Electrified Vito, Sprinter coming and Mercedes-Benz Vans Australia is keen

Mercedes-Benz logo24 Jul 2017

By TIM NICHOLSON in CAPE TOWN

MERCEDES-BENZ Vans’ plans to electrify about 1500 examples of its mid-size Vito and large Sprinter vans as part of a deal with international courier company Hermes has caught the eye of the German giant’s Australian outpost.

In March, Mercedes announced it would partner with Hermes to incorporate electric Vitos and Sprinters into its fleet from early 2018 as part of a pilot program in Hamburg and the home of Benz’s headquarters, Stuttgart.

As previously reported, Mercedes-Benz Vans has signalled its intention to develop electric powertrain technology for its fleet of commercial delivery vans for global release by the end of this decade, as previewed by the Vision Van concept that was uncovered last year.

The next-generation Sprinter is due to be revealed later next year, so the deal with Hermes could mean using the ageing current-gen version, while the electrified Vito will take the form of the existing third-generation W447-series van that was launched in Australia in mid 2015.

Mercedes-Benz Vans Australia and New Zealand managing director Diane Tarr said the company was hoping to introduce electric vans in the near future, with some of its fleet customers pushing for more alternative energy solutions.

“You may have picked up that we will have an electric vehicle in the van space in 2018,” she said at the X-Class pick-up reveal in Cape Town last week. “It will be Europe initially and they are fully aware of our expectations to bring electric vehicles into Australia as soon as possible.

“It is also driven by a lot of questions from our fleet customers. When an electric vehicle will be available. That also gets fed through to Germany around the opportunity that presents for us.”

 center imageLeft: Mercedes-Benz Vans Australia and New Zealand managing director Diane Tarr

Ms Tarr said Mercedes-Benz Vans had put significant investment into offering solutions beyond its product offering and that fleet customers were always front of mind.

“All of that is coming together around how can we not just be a manufacturer of vans but … providing a total solution to our customers. It has to be in line with what their strategy is,” she said.

“The feedback and discussions with those big players in courier space is saying that’s what we need. Last week we were asked to present in Melbourne to a big fleet courier company about our future transport solutions because that is really their angle. That makes us excited because we are developing so much, we have put a lot of investment into that.”

Ms Tarr added that there was potential for plug-in hybrid vans as well as fully electric variants, given Mercedes already offers the technology across its passenger-car range.

“We know that next year (the models) will be full electric vehicles, however we know we have got the expertise and experience from passenger cars of plug-in hybrids. We always do a combination of the best fit for whatever vehicle in various situations, and we can always fall back onto that.”

Beyond the 2018 pilot program in Europe, it is unclear when zero-emissions vans could hit Australian shores, or whether they would carry a price premium over regular diesel- and petrol-powered variants.

So far in Australia, the only electrified van offering is Renault’s Kangoo ZE that started as a trial and is available to fleet and other business buyers.

The Kangoo ZE is powered by a 44kW/266Nm AC electric motor paired to a 22kWh lithium-ion battery for a real-world driving range between 80 and 125km, and the Mercedes Vision Van concept has a 75kW electric drivetrain with a driving range of between 80 and 270km.

Mercedes sells a rebadged version of the Kangoo in Europe, dubbed the Citan, but it is not offered with an electric powertrain.

Benz has not revealed any details on the electric powertrains that will be used in the Vito and Sprinter vans for the Hermes trial.

Meanwhile, a plug-in hybrid version of the X-Class has also been ruled out for the time being by head of Mercedes-Benz Vans, Volker Mornhinweg, at the pick-up’s international debut this week.

“When you look at that segment, currently there is nothing there,” he told Australian journalists in Cape Town, South Africa.

“In our company we have all the technical competencies, we can do hybrids, we just recently (announced) the Vito and Sprinter purely electric driven (vans), which means we have the competency, the technology, we can do it.

“So far the demand is not there, but if it will come up in the future then we will sit down, figure it out and then make decisions.”

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