Mercedes-Benz has slowly overhauled its powertrain lineup in recent years, but bigger changes are on the way. The automaker has already downsized much of its six- and eight-cylinder engines, and now it has its eyes on more hybrid, electric, and hydrogen offerings.
In the near term, expect Mercedes-Benz to increase its hybrid offerings. Thomas Weber, Mercedes head of research and car development, recently told Autocar that the automaker will release 10 plug-in hybrids by 2017. First up will be the 2015 Mercedes-Benz S550 Plug-in Hybrid, which promises eight-cylinder performance with efficiency of a four-cylinder. Its powertrain combines a 3.0-liter twin-turbo V-6 (329 hp and 354 lb-ft of torque) with a 114-hp electric motor. Benz says that powertrain is modular, so expect it to trickle down to other models, including SUVs and the C-Class.
Weber says a world where all cars are electric-powered is a strong possibility. The automaker plans to make big strides with EVs, with Weber predicting a dramatic change in battery technology by 2020. Benz currently employs lithium-ion battery chemistry, but says it will eventually switch to lithium-sulphur before making a bigger change to lithium-air. Unlike lithium-ion batteries, which rely on internally stored oxygen for its chemical reaction, lithium-air will use airborne oxygen to charge the battery and release that oxygen when it’s no longer needed, Autocar reports. This will allow lithium-air battery packs to have larger energy storage capacity. Weber says this could theoretically provide up to 250 miles of range for the B-Class Electric Drive, which is currently limited to about 85 miles.
Weber didn’t elaborate on Benz’s progress on fuel cell technology, but said it’s still on the table. Autocar also reports that Benz wants more “downspeeding” for its powertrains. Benz will essentially put more effort into having its engines run at lower rpm to reduce friction and emissions. That said, the automaker will reportedly focus on four-cylinder engines that turn slower than high-revving three-cylinders. Benz previously said three-pots are definitely out of the question for rear-drive cars, though it may consider the downsized mill for hybrids and front-drive models.