Mercedes-Benz Australia has reaffirmed its commitment to bringing its plug-in hybrid technology to Australia, however it won’t be looking to take down all-electric upstart Tesla - at least not straight away.
Instead, according to local Mercedes CEO Horst von Sanden the arrival of plug-in Benzes will serve to gauge customer appetites for greener powertrains.
Benz’s trio of plug-in hybrid models - to be made up of the C 350e, S 500e and GLE 500e 4Matic - will also allow the German automaker to compete with Audi's e-tron products and establish a greener product portfolio locally.
Thanks to Australian vehicle tax and registration structures that don’t incentivise ownership of more fuel-efficient cars, eco-friendly plug-in hybrids are a harder sell in Australia. For the average affluent motorist, fuel costs have less impact than for the rest of the population.
That’s also compounded by the debateable “green-ness” of charging an electric car or plug-in hybrid from a coal-powered national grid, but von Sanden says it’s crucial to expose Australian customers to the technology as early as possible.
“Despite all the discussion on energy and how energy is produced, we believe that the cars are so good that it is a real alternative these days,” von Sanden said to TMR.
“We believe there is a market for them. It won’t be massive, it’s early days yet, but with the product and what the product can do we’re determined to bring it.”
And while each plug-in model will cost a premium over its conventionally-powered siblings, von Sanden conceded that the extra spend needed to be as minimal as possible to encourage uptake.
“We will try and price them as aggressively and sensibly as we can,” he said, “because there’s no doubt that people are only prepared to pay so much of a premium for a plug-in hybrid.”
“Our product team is working on the positioning as we speak. We want to make sure that the positioning is close enough to the regular production engines.”
The C 350e (above) will be first out of the blocks when it launches locally in November. Powered by a 2.0 litre turbo petrol inline four and electric drive motor, the C 350e produces a combined output of 208kW of power and 600Nm of torque.
Charging takes roughly four hours from a standard 10-amp power outlet, and it can travel up to 31km on battery-power alone before the petrol engine needs to kick in..
The S 500e (below) will follow shortly after, promising an electric-only range of 33km and average fuel consumption on the combined cycle of just 2.8 l/100km - not bad for a full-size luxury limo.
The GLE 500e 4Matic is expected to arrive before the end of 2015, but depending on supply it may be delayed until the start of 2016.
When it gets here, it’ll offer an electric range of roughly 30km and be powered by the same 245kW/480Nm 3.0 litre twin-turbo petrol V6 and 85kW electric motor that features in the S 500e, producing a combined output of 325kW and 650Nm of torque.
Together, the three plug-ins will start what Mercedes-Benz PR Manager Jerry Stamoulis terms “an education process”.
It’s got some pretty tricky technology, so we want to explain it,” he said.
“There are 17 plug-in hybrids that are part of the upcoming product plan.
“There’s no guarantee we’ll take them all, but that’s why we need to start the education process because we need people to want the technology, rather than need it because of a tax benefit - which doesn’t exist here.”
“We need to educate our current customers, because if you speak to most - not all - Mercedes-Benz customers in Australia, they’re not interested in a plug-in hybrid.”