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Mercedes set to begin Sprinter EV trials in 2010

Electric avenue: Mercedes-Benz is set to hit the streets with its electric Sprinter for trials in Stuttgart.

Mercedes secures $14.5 million grant for electric van trials

19 Nov 2009

MERCEDES-BENZ has secured a grant of up to €9 million ($A14.5 million) from the German government to hasten the development of electric-powered vans and bring them to market “within a short time”.

The German manufacturer is well down the track in producing a zero-emissions full-electric drivetrain for its light commercial vehicle fleet, with testing of its inaugural Sprinter electro-van to take place with selected customers in 2010.

As a result, parent Daimler AG expects to become the first vehicle manufacturer to integrate the production of electric vans directly into its existing production plants.

The government funding will be used to subsidise the Sprinter EV test program, which will involve up to 50 vans placed with fleet operators and public bodies that conduct their transport operations in urban areas, namely Stuttgart.

Mercedes-Benz said there would be a particular focus on adaptation of the drive system, energy management and the reuse of braking energy (recuperation).

Development emphasis will also be placed on lithium-ion battery performance, the provision of replacement parts, and charging and diagnostic systems.

“The aim of all the sub-projects is to extend the technologies developed to other van model series, and to achieve series production maturity within a short time,” Mercedes said in a statement this week.

4 center imageLeft: Natural-gas-powered (NGT) Sprinter BlueEfficiency models.

It also said the goal was to market these vehicles “at an acceptable cost for all parties involved”.

As well as contributing to better environmental outcomes, the government funding is designed to safeguard employment and develop expertise in the field of electro-mobility in Germany.

Infrastructure-related aspects will also be explored during the trials.

Mercedes recently introduced two Sprinter models under its BlueEfficiency eco sub-brand – the latest iteration of its natural-gas-powered NGT, and one with a newly developed four-cylinder diesel engine combined with an Eco Gear six-speed manual gearbox and idle-stop technology.

The Sprinter has also achieved efficiency gains with the latest upgrade released overseas, although the new-generation ‘OM 651’ four-cylinder and a substantially reworked ‘OM 642’ V6 are still to arrive in Australia.

The move to a full-electric powertrain marks a significant step for Mercedes, which first developed a hybrid powertrain – including a plug-in version – for Sprinter five years ago.

Well before plug-in hybrids were commonplace, even in concept form, Mercedes introduced two diesel-electric Sprinter prototypes at the 2004 IAA Commercial Vehicle Show.

Mercedes claimed the hybrid versions could offer reduced fuel consumption of between 10 and 50 per cent, depending on the type of operation.

A 70kW electric motor, drawing from a 14kWh nickel-metal hydride battery, was used in the plug-in version, while the hybrid model without a recharging socket had a smaller 30kW electric motor and smaller NiMH batteries with a capacity of only 3kWh.

Nonetheless, the plug-in version enabled pure-electric drive for up to 4km.

Customer trials have been conducted on the Sprinter hybrid models, and identical Dodge versions, although none have reached series production.

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