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Stronger sustainable energy force necessary: Mercedes

Plan B: Sales of the hydrogen fuel-cell-powered Mercedes B-Class F-Cell were only possible with an extensive Californian refueling network.

Benz continues alternative car power push despite deficient local infrastructure

4 Dec 2014

AUSTRALIA will see more alternative-power Mercedes-Benz vehicles arriving over the next few years, but until local generation of electricity can be made more sustainable, the German prestige car-maker says combustion engines will remain king.

With the arrival of Mercedes' second hybrid this week and more on the way, electrically-driven Mercedes options are on the rise, but the company says its forthcoming plug-in hybrids and a possible fuel-cell model need clean energy to make a difference.

Where many global regions have embraced sustainable and environmentally sensitive electricity generation supportive of alternative vehicle power, Australia lags behind the world in renewable sources and has virtually no supporting infrastructure.

Without these measures, Mercedes says vehicles like its hydrogen fuel-cell powered B-Class and forthcoming plug-in hybrids have less appeal for Australian customers.

Speaking at the launch of the C300 Hybrid, Mercedes-Benz Australia/Pacific (MBAP) senior manager public relations, product and corporate communications David McCarthy told GoAuto that without clean power production, electric cars are an empty gesture.

“It's no good having an electric or part electric car if your exhaust pipe is in the Latrobe Valley,” he said.

“Whilst the move to sustainable energy is gaining force it needs to be stronger.

“Some people say we need more electric cars but again it’s about where the power comes from. I think that's a discussion that needs to be had.

“We have the B-Class Fuel Cell which you can buy in California but it's chicken and egg. There is no infrastructure in Australia and whilst I think hydrogen fuel-cell makes the ultimate sense, again, it's a matter of how do you get the hydrogen?“If you are extracting the hydrogen with brown-coal power it's just as bad.”

In 2012 nearly 91 per cent of Australian electricity was generated by burning non-renewable fossil fuels and while that figure has decreased to under 90 per cent with wind-power and HEP on the rise, we still lag behind countries with substantial green-incentive government backing.

For example, in Mercedes' native Germany about 30 per cent of the nation's electricity comes from renewable resources and the country has a network of 15 hydrogen refueling stations linking many of its major centres.

Germany's hydrogen fueling station density is only beaten by California which has 12 operating in the greater Los Angeles area and more than 20 further stations planned, and Japan which plans to more than double its 17 filling stations by 2015.

Despite the lack of Australian alternative fuel incentives, Mr McCarthy said there was still enough interest to justify a continued introduction of Mercedes alternative fuel options.

Under the company's recently announced naming system, two e-badged plug-in hybrid vehicles will come to Australia next year, joining the recently launched C300 and S300 pure hybrids.

“Both S500 and C350 will probably get here near the end of next year,” he said.

“It's really to introduce people to the technology and to get people used to seeing that name on our models.

“C300 is a good combination, good price and not that huge a premium over the C250 BlueTec. For us it's also about getting the name out there and getting our dealer network used to the technology in the car.

“Ultimately plug-in hybrids are going to be very important. Internal combustion engines are going to be around for a long time but it's about reducing emissions as much as you can.

“The legislative environment is only going to get tougher so plug-ins are a big part of that answer. That's the way it is going and whether we think it’s a good idea or not is irrelevant. The legislators make the rules and we follow them.

“Most European plug-ins have a 30km range, China it's 50km to get those tax incentives and the size of the Chinese market may see the range of all vehicles going to 50km which makes a lot of sense but the challenge is how the power is generated.”

While Mercedes is committed to the cause of alternative energy and determined to bring more electrically powered vehicles to Australia, Mr McCarthy suggests that the market is still a long way from seeing a departure of fossil-fuel burning cars.

“Combustion engines will play a very central role for a long time but the gap is closing,” he said“The car and airline industry has done more than any other industry to reduce emissions and yet we still get beaten up.

“Sure it's a law of diminishing returns but one way for better economy is to take out weight, another is aerodynamics and engines. Put those three together and you get some remarkable results.

“It's easy to forget that 4.5 litres per 100km is 62 miles per gallon. A car that did 30mpg used to be exceptional. That was the benchmark and what everyone wanted to get. New C63 is under 9.0L/100km. That's 30mpg.”

Mercedes' feisty C-Class based C63 AMG arrives on Australian soil mid next year with up to 375kW, 700Nm and zero to 100km/h acceleration of 4.0 seconds.

Until a clear favourite alternative powertrain becomes apparent, MBAP public relations and product communications manager Jerry Stamoulis said the company would be pursuing all feasible options and providing an option for as many global markets as possible.

“We've got every base covered,” he said “We're doing diesel-hybrid, petrol-hybrid, plug-in hybrid and fuel-cell. We are entertaining all avenues because the other question that is difficult to answer is – what is the future of mobility in general.”

Mr Stamoulis used the differences between the changing landscape in the United Kingdom and Australia to highlight how the requirements of different nations vary significantly.

“Look at how many apartment blocks are going up in London over the next ten years for example, but then you look at Australia where we are all going out,” said Mr Stamoulis.

“What might work in the UK or Europe might not necessarily work in Australia.

“That's why as a brand we have to tailor to every market and why we are in almost every world market.”

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