Referring to them as "near-series" vehicles, Mercedes-Benz is preparing a trio of well-engineered concepts for the North American International Auto Show in Detroit next month. All of these five-passenger eco-runners share a common modular platform architecture that borrows basic elements initially seen on the firm's first A-Class and later B-Class production models, namely a "sandwich floor" design that locates powertrain components in a way that maximizes cabin space, lowers the center of gravity and enhances passenger protection in case of a severe frontal impact.
Anchoring the BlueZERO lineup is the E-Cell, a pure electric variant that can travel up to 200 kilometers (124 miles) on a single charge of its liquid-cooled Lithium-ion batteries. Also a pure electric, the BlueZERO F-Cell ups that distance spec to 400 km (248 miles). King of the BlueZERO hill is the E-Cell Plus, a plug-in with a range-extending internal combustion engine that can travel 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 motors that capable of delivering 320 newton-meters (236 lb-ft) of peak torque. That's sufficient thrust to send all three variations from 0-60 in less than 11 seconds and on to an electronically-limited top speed of 150 kph (93 mph).
In statements regarding the BlueZERO program, Dr Thomas Weber, Daimler AG Board of Management member responsible for corporate research and development at Mercedes-Benz Cars, left no doubt that the automaker intends to aggressively pursue a leadership position in the burgeoning EV/plug-in arena. "Our modular system allows different drive configurations for every customer requirement, 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." Weber says that Mercedes plans to start producing fuel-cell vehicles on a limited basis starting late in 2009 and cars with battery-electric drive alone will go on sale in 2010.