Brave new elec­tric world for Mercedes

Business Day - Motor News - - FRONT PAGE -

Mercedes-Benz will gam­ble that cost and sim­plic­ity will trump range and recharge speeds when its EQC 400 bat­tery-elec­tric cross­over launches in 2019.

The EQC 400 launch in Swe­den showed the world’s old­est car maker is fi­nally div­ing into the BEV (bat­tery elec­tric ve­hi­cle) world with at least one foot af­ter years of dip­ping its toes (with the B-Class, the SLS Elec­tric and the smart fam­ily).

Mercedes is com­ing to the EV world with the full weight of its his­tory — and the full weight of every­thing else.

While the EQC 400’s 80kW/h lithium-ion bat­tery weighs an im­pres­sively light 650kg, Benz’s claimed weight fig­ure for the en­tire SUV is an as­ton­ish­ing 2,425kg.

With its full 505kg pay­load on board, that fig­ure rises to 2,930kg, or just the mass of a sin­gle av­er­age hu­man be­neath three tons.

Benz in­sid­ers ad­mit it’s partly down to the EQC 400 shar­ing its MRA ar­chi­tec­ture with the Mercedes-Benz GLC, which makes it 217kg heav­ier than the just­launched elec­tric Jaguar I-Pace and 35kg heav­ier than the gull­winged Tesla Model X 90D.

The I-Pace, Model X and Audi’s up­com­ing e-tron all use pur­pose-de­signed bat­tery-elec­tric ve­hi­cle “skate­board” ar­chi­tec­tures that share lit­tle with their in­ter­nal-com­bus­tion cousins. Still, the com­bined 300kW out­put is a strong fig­ure, as is the in­stantly ac­ces­si­ble 765Nm of torque, and it’s enough to throw the EQC 400 to 100km/h in 5.1 sec­onds.

With each of the two asyn­chro­nous elec­tric mo­tors spin­ning at up to 13,000rpm, the EQC 400 uses a sin­gle-speed trans­mis­sion to reach its 180km/h top speed, yet it’s strong enough at low speed that Benz says it can tow up to 1,800kg for a trailer or car­a­van.

While it has an elec­tric mo­tor at each axle, the two have dif­fer­ent char­ac­ters. Benz claims the front mo­tor will be fo­cused on ef­fi­ciency and econ­omy to help it reach an NEDC econ­omy fig­ure of 22.2kW/h per 100km.

That gives the EQC 400 a range of more than 450km on a full charge (on the NEDC cy­cle).

There are also five driv­ing modes to choose from, rang­ing from Com­fort, Eco and Max Range to Sport and the cus­tomis­able In­di­vid­ual mode.

The steering wheel re­tains the usual pad­dles, but they can now be used to al­ter the EQC 400’s en­ergy re­gen­er­a­tion rate un­der brak­ing and de­cel­er­a­tion.

Benz in­sists the EQC 400 can be recharged at a rate of 110kW on fast-charg­ers to jump from flat to an 80% charge in just 40 min­utes with­out harm­ing the bat­tery chem­istry.

The is­sue with that is that while the I-Pace shares a sim­i­lar recharge time (de­spite ac­cept­ing a lower 100kW max­i­mum charge rate), Audi’s up­com­ing e-tron prom­ises to recharge at 150kW and slash 10 min­utes from the EQC 400’s charg­ing time to 80% ca­pac­ity.

There is a 7.4kW on-board charger, too, and the bat­tery is mounted in­side a pur­pose-built cra­dle, with de­for­ma­tion zones in­side and out­side the cra­dle.

It shuts down the bat­tery in mul­ti­ple stages af­ter a crash, with the high-volt­age sys­tem switch­ing off au­to­mat­i­cally, ei­ther re­versibly or ir­re­versibly, de­pend­ing on the crash sever­ity. It also has shut­down points for emer­gency-ser­vices teams.

The lithium-ion bat­tery, built by Daim­ler’s Ac­cu­mo­tive fac­tory, de­liv­ers 384 cells in the floor, filling the space be­tween the EQC 400’s axles. The mod­u­lar bat­tery has two mod­ules with 48 cells each, plus four with 72 cells each, with 408V and a 210 Amp-hour ca­pac­ity.

Be­sides its mass, the EQC 400 is fight­ing Mercedes-Benz’s his­tory of en­ter­ing new mar­ket seg­ments, which hasn’t been a strength of the brand, which tra­di­tion­ally tries to dom­i­nate by run­ning be­fore it can walk. For sug­ges­tions of this, see the orig­i­nal A- and B-Classes, the orig­i­nal 190E and the smart fortwo, for­four and road­ster.

Benz built more than 200 pro­to­types, chew­ing through mil­lions of kilo­me­tres of test­ing, cov­er­ing more than 500 stan­dard in­di­vid­ual tests.

The EQC will go on sale in Europe in late 2019, and will reach SA’s shores in mid-2020.

MercedesBenz boss Di­eter Zetsche un­veils the new EQC at the in­ter­na­tional launch in Swe­den.

The EQC 400 ar­rives in SA in mid2020. Left: The cabin has all the usual Benz lux­ury trap­pings.

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