Mercedes-Benz’s entry into the mainstream plug-in marketplace and answer to the BMW i3, the all-electric Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive — has finally entered production.
Made at Mercedes-Benz’s Rastatt factory in Germany, where the German automaker already makes its internal combustion engined A-Class, B-Class and GLA-Class cars, the B-Class Electric Drive will go on sale in the U.S. later this spring and the UK some time early in 2015.
Of course, this isn’t the first all-electric car from Mercedes-Benz to hit the marketplace: that honour goes to the Smart ForTwo Electric Drive, which entered into mass production at the end of 2012. With two-seat microcars unpopular in many markets around the world however, the Smart ForTwo Electric Drive’s market share will always be less than the potential marketshare of a larger, five-seat family hatchback.
Which is the reason behind the B-Class Electric Drive. With five seats and plenty of luggage space in the rear, the Mercedes-Benz B-Class combines the practicality of a highway capable compact car with the prestige of the Mercedes-Benz name. This places it in the same marketplace occupied by rival german automaker BMW and its smaller, four-seat all-electric i3 and range-extended i3 BEVx (REX) models.
Technologically, the two cars are fairly evenly matched on performance. The B-Class, fitted with a 132 kilowatt electric motor and tipping the scales at 1,750 kilograms, can sprint from 0-62 mph in 7.9 seconds. The BMW i3 BEV, at more than 500 kilos lighter thanks to its carbon fibre construction, has a smaller 125 kilowatt electric motor, but reaches the same speed 0.7 seconds faster. (The BEVx, heavier due to its gasoline range-extending engine, matches the B-Class ED in its 0-62 sprint.)
Range is similar too, with the BMW i3 making a claimed 190 km (118 miles) to the B-Class ED’s 200 km(125 miles) on the NEDC test. As we always note, NEDC tests are notoriously optimistic, so we’d suggest knocking a good 15-20 miles off that figure for real-world, every day capability.
The B-Class ED is even likely to match the i3 in terms of pricing, placing the two cars at a fairly similar place in the electric car market, although Mercedes-Benz has yet to announce official pricing for any of its markets.
But while the B-Class ED may have a practicality edge on the i3 in terms of interior space — it has five seats to the i3’s four, and a much larger load bay area — the B-Class ED’s biggest asset is the company responsible for its electric drivetrain: Tesla Motors.
With a ten percent equity stake in the Californian automaker, Mercedes-Benz has farmed out all aspects of its electric drivetrain development to Tesla. The result, like the Toyota RAV4 EV, is a vehicle which not only benefits from a Tesla-engineered battery pack, drivetrain and power circuitry, but a vehicle which leverages Tesla’s many years of electric car development in what is nevertheless a first-generation car.
The result — we hope — is a well-engineered, competent electric car which should not only help Mercedes-Benz enter the luxury compact car marketplace with a bang, but also give it a fighting chance against the likes of BMW.
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