Mercedes B-class Electric Drive: Built for Americans
When it was introduced two years ago, the current generation of the Mercedes B-class was supposed to get a plug-in hybrid version. It quickly disappeared, but last year in Paris, suddenly there was the concept of an electric B-class. It's shown up again at the current 2013 Frankfurt Motor Show, looking much more like a regular production model. So it was time to ask a few questions.
It won't be available before late 2014 or early 2015, but the spokesperson I spoke with in Frankfurt quickly added that it will be available at the end of next Spring in America. WHAT? What's this stupid idea that Americans should be served first?
The new Mercedes S-class is available now in Germany, but it won't be available to Americans before next year. Just like Europeans had to wait more than six months after Americans to get a Chevrolet Volt or a Tesla Model S. It's simply a part of the normal functioning of the universe that when a new car is launched, it's first available in its manufacturer's home market before exports begin.
Me thinks there is something highly unusual here. Mercedes doesn't give a clear explanation for this situation, but there's an obvious reason: Californian regulation. Mercedes wants to be compliant, but there's more to the story since the car will be available everywhere in the U.S. as well as in several European countries.
The electric B-class has a little bit of American blood in its veins. The motor and battery will be supplied by Tesla Motors. Some people may see that as a good thing, but traditional Mercedes fans will see it as shameful. When Mercedes greets its stand's visitors at the Frankfurt Motor Show by saying it is the inventor of the automobile, it shouldn't have to get any engineering from an outside company.
The electric Smart shows how things are done. The first generation was developed by British firm Zytek. That company also helped on the second generation, which used a battery supplied by Tesla Motors. But the third generation, the first to actually be sold, is a true Daimler product. Its batteries and motor are built by Mercedes or partners under its control. Or could it be that this electric B-class will be superior to the competition thanks to Tesla components? Mercedes doesn't give a full spec sheet yet, only provisional figures with the 0 to 60 mph in 7.9 seconds and a 115 miles range in "US City driving." Acceleration is better than the Nissan LEAF, but not the range.
At least, the B-class is a great car. It's about the same length as a LEAF, but it's a bit taller and wider to make it roomy inside. The diesel B-class is quite popular as a taxi. Chassis engineers have also done a great job. The battery pack sits below the floor, and the big trunk is exactly the same as in the gas version. The cargo space is much larger than the Leaf's, and is possibly the car's best asset. Fit and finish are above average, with a stronger feeling of luxury than in Tesla Model S. The door panels look cheap in the Tesla sedan, not in the B-class. Charging will be slow, with Mercedes saying that two hours at 240V will give 60 miles of range (it's probably with 32 amps), and the car won't be inexpensive with complete drivetrains shipped from California to Germany.
All right then. As a European, I don't mind Americans having the Mercedes B-class Electric Drive first.
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