Mercedes-Benz unveiled two versions of its BlueZERO in Detroit, a production-engineered "near-series" concept that can be fitted with any of three different, ultra-clean powertrains. All variations of this five-passenger eco-runner share common bodywork and a modular architecture that incorporates the "sandwich floor" design initially used on the firm's first A-Class and later B-Class models. This innovative layout positions powertrain components in a way that maximizes usable cabin space, lowers the vehicle's center of gravity and enhances occupant protection in a severe frontal impact.
The BlueZERO closest to hitting the streets is the E-Cell, a battery-electric variant capable of traveling up to 200 kilometers (124 miles) on a single charge of its liquid-cooled Lithium-ion batteries. Displayed in cutaway form, the BlueZero F-Cell uses a hydrogen fuel cell to generate power for its electric motor and has a range of over 400 km (248 miles). Missing in action was the BlueZero E-Cell Plus, a plug-in hybrid with a range-extending 1.0-liter turbocharged three-cylinder gasoline engine culled from the smart fortwo that allows it to cover 100 km (62 miles) in pure EV mode and up to 600 km (372 miles) using both types of power.
Mercedes says its state-of-the-art BlueZERO batteries can store up to 35 kilowatt hours of electric charge and power 100 kW (134 horsepower) motors that are capable of delivering 320 newton-meters (236 lb.-ft.) of peak torque. That's sufficient to send all three BlueZERO iterations from 0-60 in less than 11 seconds and on to an electronically-limited top speed of 150 kph (93 mph). Standard recharging requires about an hour for each 100 kilometers of range, but that time can be cut in half with a dedicated high-output charging station.
In a statement regarding the BlueZERO program, Dr. Thomas Weber, Daimler AG Board of Management member responsible for corporate research and development at Mercedes-Benz Cars, made it clear that the automaker intends to establish itself as a world leader in the burgeoning EV/plug-in arena, as well as in the field of fuel cells. "Our modular system allows different drive configurations for every customer requirement. The modified sandwich-floor platform provides the perfect basis for a wide model range with electric drive systems, and we are also developing a new, additional platform for future compact models with power units based on optimized internal combustion engines. The intelligent networking of both architectures enables us to develop our product portfolio extremely flexibly and efficiently. From 2009, we will be producing the first Mercedes fuel-cell cars on a small scale. Small-scale production of Mercedes-Benz cars with battery-electric drive alone will then commence in 2010. This means we are extremely well equipped for the future."