The world’s first plug-in fuel cell electric vehicle could be the hybrid solution to electric transportation’s problems
Attendees at the IAA International Motor Show in Frankfurt are witnessing unprecedented levels of electrification in vehicles displayed this year, but even against this backdrop, the latest announcement from Mercedes-Benz may come as a surprise.
The automaker confirmed that preproduction would shortly begin on its new Mercedes-Benz GLC F‑CELL, a hydrogen-battery plug-in hybrid (PHEV). The “doubly electrifying” SUV will be built under the company’s flagship EQ Power electric range.
FCEVs are not new territory for Mercedes. The B-Class F-CELL has been on the market for years, and despite limited uptake, has proven to be a capable SUV (provided you can get hold of the hydrogen to run it). However, improvements have been made; the drive system and PEM (polymer electrolyte fuel cell) stack used in the latest offering reportedly provides 40% more output in 30% less space, and cuts platinum use by 90%.
The GLC F-CELL EVs on show at the IAA are powered by an asynchronous motor with 147 kW (200 hp) of output and 350 Nm of torque.
Two carbon-fibre-encased tanks built into the vehicle floor hold around 4.4 kg of hydrogen (slightly less than the 5kg held in the Toyota Mirai). As the electric drive requires no propeller shaft, this makes additional room for one of the two, with the second installed under the rear seat bench. Refuelling takes around three minutes.
Meanwhile, a 13.8 kWh battery serves as an additional energy source, which sits at the car’s rear. An on-board 7.2-kW charger will recharge the battery in about 90 minutes. The battery also allows for a regenerative braking system, helping to recover the energy that would otherwise be lost in a conventional FCEV system.
As with most hybrids, a number of drive options are available, including an eco-mode, a battery-only mode and a sport mode.
Batteries alone will only get the F-CELL 49km, but using hybrid mode it will reportedly manage 437km (271 miles) under NEDC rating. In real terms, that is likely to be much closer to 220 miles or so – which does seem disappointing given that FCEVs should be able to take advantage of much longer range than battery EVs.
Group research & Mercedes-Benz Cars development head Ola Källenius commented: “Our many years of experience with fuel-cell technology pay dividends in the new GLC F-CELL: its long electric range, short refuelling times and everyday practicality of an SUV will make it the perfect vehicle.”
Daimler is now working to prepare for series production, which will be undertaken in Bremen. Market-specific sales concepts, including a rental model, are being evaluated now too. Price has not been indicated so far, although speculation has pegged it at around US$50,000-60,000, with arrival expected in 2018.
ElecTrans finds a lot to like about the “PH-FCEV” concept. Batteries can smooth out some of the performance limitations of a FCEV, while the longer range and quicker refuelling offered by hydrogen may reassure those drivers still plagued by range anxiety. However, both technologies are still relatively expensive – even more so in combination – and hydrogen infrastructure is still lacking in Europe and North America, the core SUV markets. Mercedes may be onto a good idea, but it remains to be seen whether the F-CELL can be a commercial success.