Mercedes-Benz Product Boss: Europe, North America EVs, EV Charging to Rapidly Get Better

Hardware innovation to drive experience improvements, official says.

Mercedes-Benz is preparing its new entry-level EV platform previewed by the CLA Class Concept revealed in fall 2023. (Mercedes-Benz)

When it displayed its Concept CLA Class for the first time in North America at CES 2024, Mercedes-Benz focused on the car’s merging of novel user-experience, new all-encompassing operating system and a radical sound-system concept – all as examples of the company’s intent to own its software-defined destiny. But the Concept CLA Class is more than a software story: it also is the showcase for the upcoming Mercedes-Benz Modular Architecture (MMA) that underpins the company’s imminent new generation of compact, entry-level EVs.

Major propulsion components revealed in the CLA Class Concept will be used for the production version models employing the company’s new MMA platform for its entry-level EVs. (Mercedes-Benz)

In a roundtable interview with media during CES, Christoph Starzynski, vice-president – development, Mercedes-Benz Cars, said several of the hardware innovations in the Concept CLA Class are central to improving EV performance across many segments, not just entry-level models. The concept car, he said, previews next-generation hardware that will be available when the production CLA models begin later in 2024 to replace the current-generation CLA, which has been in the market for some six years.

Battery technology developed for the EQXX hyper-efficient concept car will play a role in coming production models. (Mercedes-Benz)

“From the e-drive perspective, [the production CLA is] going to be a completely new e-drive,” Starzynski said. The CLA Class Concept showed this new MB.EDU, or Mercedes-Benz Electric Drive Unit, driving the vehicle’s rear wheels, although the current CLA models are front-wheel drive. The company has confirmed that there will be internal combustion-propelled variants of the MMA platform, however, so it may be possible IC variants will offer front-drive configurations, while EV versions offer single- or dual-motor layouts.

The company said the CLA Class Concept’s permanent-magnet traction motor borrows from the technology shown in the hyper-efficient Vision EQXX Concept; its motor makes virtually no use of rare-earth minerals. In the CLA Class Concept, the single rear-axle motor makes 235 hp, but also is coupled with a 2-speed gearbox, which apparently helps to achieve the 750-km (466-mi) WLTP-cycle maximum driving range the company quoted when it first revealed the CLA Class Concept in fall 2023.

Christoph Starzynski, vice-president – development, Mercedes-Benz Cars. (Mercedes-Benz)

“The e-drive is something which we will roll out then to our EVs, especially from the motors,” Starzynski continued. “The motors and the battery are going to be completely scalable.” More efficiency also is achieved with the platform’s 800-volt architecture. He added that axial-flux traction motors will, at least for now, remain the exclusive province of AMG performance models, but in the future axial-flux motors may be used when a blend of performance and efficiency is appropriate.

Charging education

“We are doing a lot– not only in the U.S., but especially here – to educate people on the charging topic. He said the U.S. is a patchwork of charging services that invariably is confusing to a new EV customer. “It’s even more complicated in Europe,” Starzynski asserted.

“We made a decision, ‘Okay, we have to go our own way now.’ He mentioned that Mercedes-Benz recently inaugurated the $1 billion Ionna network with six other automaker partners “and obviously we're adopting or offering the Tesla charging network. So, we're basically now using the entire infrastructure to just give every opportunity to a customer to charge the most convenient way.

“We conquested a lot of customers – which have decided to go the EV route a couple of years ago – back to the brand,” Starzynski continued. “And that was the main purpose; the main purpose was not to take S-Class customers to the EQS. Basically, take and conquest other customers to Mercedes. So this is a big success, especially in the United States – we brought back a lot of customers who made already the decision to go to the EVs.”

He also mentioned North America’s first Mercedes-branded Charging Hub near Atlanta that became operational in early 2024. “Now, for the new customers, especially also new EV customers, obviously what we are doing is basically helping them to understand how electric mobility works.”