Mercedes Doubles down on Electric Vans, Considers Fuel Cells
As the demonization of diesel continues across much of Europe, manufacturers are rushing to introduce a range of options to power tomorrow’s delivery vehicles. While petrol engines are a short-term possibility in smaller vehicles, larger commercial vehicles are increasingly turning towards electric drive.
Mercedes-Benz Vans is the latest manufacturer to make its future plans clear, launching an eVito towards the end of this year and a larger eSprinter in 2019. The eVito will be available in two wheelbases, offering 6.0 m3 or 6.6 m3 of load volume, while the eSprinter will be based on the firm’s short wheelbase mid-height van, providing 10.5 m3 of load space. Both models will be powered by lithium-ion battery packs, already used in Mercedes’ S-Class plug-in hybrid car, mounted below the load floor.
The eVito will have three of the battery packs, providing a 41-kW·h output with a potential range of 93 miles (150 km). Customers will be able to choose the van’s maximum speed of 50, 62 or 75 mph (80, 100 or 120 km/h), to suit their operation. The short wheelbase model offers 1,073 kg (2,365 lb) of load capacity, while the longer model has a payload of 1,048 kg (2,310 lb), within a gross weight of 3.2 tonnes (7,054 lb).
The eSprinter will be offered with a choice of three or four batteries, though customers will have to trade additional range for carrying capacity. The three-battery model offers 71 miles (114 km) of range, with the same 41-kW·h output as the eVito. In this configuration, the van has a potential payload of 1,040 kg (2,292 lb).
For customers that require the additional range, the four-battery model offers up to 93 miles of range with a 55-kW·h output. However, the fourth battery pack limits the van to just 900 kg (1,984 lb) of load-carrying ability.
Using a 7.2-kW AC home charging point, the three-battery vans will take 6 hours to fully recharge, while the four-battery model will require 8 hours. Mercedes will guarantee the batteries with an eight-year/62,000-mile warranty.
The electric motor in the eVito delivers 84 kW and up to 300 N·m (221 lb·ft), which is more than enough for urban traffic use.
The Mercedes e-vans have three driving modes, selected by a button on the central dash. C provides full power and torque with access to full climate control within the cab. E delivers full power and torque as well but reduces the climate system to boost range and efficiency. E+ cuts the power and torque, to provide maximum range, though it still delivers enough acceleration to stay with urban traffic.
In addition, the vans use what would normally be transmission shift paddles behind the steering wheel, to control four levels of brake energy recuperation. The D- setting delivers maximum retardation as soon as you lift off the throttle pedal, allowing almost single pedal use in congested city driving. The D setting is for normal regen, putting energy back into the batteries as the vehicle slows. D+ reduces the braking effect further, making it easier to drive at higher speeds without having to worry about lifting off the throttle pedal and losing drive. D++ provides a sailing function for faster road use, with no braking effect when you lift off, but consequently no regeneration.
The vans’ brake lights are activated when strong deceleration is sensed, even if the brake pedal is not in use, to warn following vehicles.
Cab heating is provided by a heat pump, rather than an electric heater, using waste heat from the cab and from the battery cooling system. The heat pump can also be used to cool the air in warmer temperatures, plus the vans will have electrically heated seating for rapid warming in colder climates.
Mercedes claims that operators will achieve the best range by preconditioning the climate system while the vehicle is still connected to a charging point. This uses grid energy to set the internal temperature, rather than drawing from the vehicle’s batteries. An intelligent charging management app will allow customers to set preconditioning, for heating or cooling, to improve potential range.
Is electric the right solution?
Mercedes is also working with potential customers, to assess whether an electric van is the right solution to their transport needs. This not only involves looking at actual vehicle use but also focuses on infrastructure and charging capability within the customer’s operation.
The company has developed a total cost of ownership (TCO) tool that will allow customers to input their own mileages, fuel and energy costs, to assess whether an electric van would meet their needs. In addition, an eVan-ready app can be installed on driver smartphones, to record current mileage and use as part of the assessment process.
There are no prices available yet. However, Mercedes claims that under a three-year lease, with an operator covering 15,000 miles (24,000 km) per year, TCO would be no higher than for a diesel model in Germany, taking into account a government allowance for electric vehicles.
An electric van is not going to be the right choice for every application. But, for urban distribution and lower-mileage use, it could provide a viable solution for many commercial vehicle users.
“A zero-local-emissions fleet that still meets all expectations in terms of everyday usability, flexibility, reliability and economy—the eVito dispels these apparent contradictions,” said Volker Mornhinweg, head of Mercedes-Benz Vans.
“We are at the forefront of this development, will use the momentum, follow up with the eSprinter and, in the medium term, offer battery-electric drive across the entire van lineup. We want the selection of a specific powertrain variant to be determined by the respective use case and not the availability of the suitable vehicle class.”
Concept Sprinter F-Cell
Mercedes-Benz Vans admits that a battery-electric van will not suit all customer operations, particularly where longer range is a factor. To tackle electric van range anxiety, it has shown a concept Sprinter F-Cell.
The F-Cell concept uses a compact hydrogen fuel cell, designed to fit in the standard engine bay. The fuel cell stack has 412 cells creating 75 kW. This is passed through an inverter to an underfloor battery pack, similar to those used in the new eVito and eSprinter. The 105-kW battery, which can be wall-charged for plug-in use, powers an electric motor, which in turn drives through a transmission integrated into the rear axle of the van, delivering 147 kW (197 hp) and 350 N·m (258 lb·ft).
The hydrogen is stored in four modular pressurized tanks. Three of the tanks are situated beneath the van floor, with a fourth in the rear of the van. The underfloor tanks carry 4.5 kg (10 lb) of hydrogen at 700-bar (10.2-ksi) pressure, with the rear tank holding a further 2.9 kg (6.4 lb). This is enough to provide up to 310 miles (500 km) of driving range, with the battery delivering up to 18 miles (29 km) of pure electric drive.
Mercedes claims the fuel-cell driveline would suit van operators looking for electric drive with longer, inter-urban range. This could include goods vehicles, people-carrying transport or in the case of the concept, a motorhome, where the batteries would also be used to power living accommodation features such as fridges. The fuel cell driveline adds just 200 kg (440 lb) to the weight of the van chassis when compared to a diesel driveline, making it suitable for delivery van use. While not commonly available yet, hydrogen also offers a rapid fill time, unlike battery recharging.
There is no firm commitment to produce the Sprinter F-Cell yet. However, Volker Mornhinweg added: “We will offer every commercial range with an electric drive, starting with eVito and eSprinter. With these we will already cover many but not all cases with a zero-local-emission powertrain. We are enhancing our strategy with fuel-cell drive, which offers substantial medium-term opportunities, especially in long-distance operation.”