A pioneer in electromobility.
- Premiere at the Hanover Fair in May 1990
- A fully fledged five-seater with proven Mercedes-Benz safety features
- Practical testing of ten more sophisticated vehicles from 1992 on the German island of Rügen in the Baltic Sea
- Handcrafted test vehicles
Mercedes-Benz EQ stands for electric vehicles from the brand with the famous star. The vehicles are based on the latest developments in areas such as electric motors, power electronics and rechargeable battery systems as these technologies have made leaps and bounds in recent years. Direct comparisons with previous individual experiments on electromobility are therefore difficult. Nevertheless – or maybe because of it – a look back into history opens up many fascinating stories.
Such a story takes place in 1990: In May of this year, Mercedes-Benz exhibited a model 190 (W 201) that was converted to electric drive at the Hanover Fair in the innovation market area. “In this way, the Mercedes 190, which comes closest to the requirements of an electric vehicle in terms of length and weight, is an ideal battery test vehicle. The main goal is to evaluate the functional suitability of all components in realistic situations with all vibrations, accelerations and temperature fluctuations that occur in daily operation, ”explained the brochure published at the time.
Mobile laboratories for practical tests
The electric 190s were used to test various drive configurations and battery systems. The energy storage devices tested were mainly sodium-nickel chloride or sodium-sulfur high-energy batteries, which had a significantly higher energy density than classic lead batteries. However, the working temperature of both systems was around 300 degrees Celsius. The group that showed the greatest interest in this industrial fair were representatives of the trades.
Mercedes-Benz 190 electric drive
Almost a year later, when Mercedes-Benz presented a more advanced vehicle at the internationally oriented Geneva Motor Show in March 1991, there was a significant shift. The 190 with the electric drive was explained in detail in the press kit and two important advantages were listed: “The car is still a fully-fledged five-seater with almost unchanged space requirements and proven safety features from Mercedes-Benz.” own DC motor driven, which was driven by permanent magnets with a peak power of 16 kW (22 hp) each, so was the total output 32 kW (44 hp). The energy was supplied by a sodium-nickel-chloride battery, and regenerative braking returned energy to the powerhouse during braking. A particular advantage of the concept was the elimination of weight-intensive mechanical components, so that the additional weight compared to a series vehicle with a combustion engine was only 200 kilograms.
The topic of electric cars experienced an upswing at this time due to the laws passed in California, for example on the introduction of emission-free vehicles. Mercedes-Benz wasn’t the only manufacturer taking steps in this direction. From 1992 some results could be seen on the German Baltic Sea coast: A large-scale field test was carried out on the island of Rügen, which lasted until 1996. The federal government financed the project with DM 60 million. The aim of the exercise was to test electric vehicles and energy systems, including their batteries, in daily practice. A total of 60 cars and delivery vans of various brands were involved.
Amongst other things, Mercedes Benz sent ten sedans of the W 201 series, which had previously been manually equipped with drive components in various combinations of electric motor and battery in Sindelfingen, to Rügen. During the field test, special charging stations with solar collectors were available to rigorously test the environmental concept, as only electricity from renewable sources can be regarded as fully CO2 neutral.
100,000 kilometers in one year with an electric test vehicle
The groundbreaking 190s were driven by test participants on the island of Rügen: These different people, including taxi drivers, used them in their normal everyday life. There were hardly any problems – the W 201 cars went about their work completely inconspicuously and reliably. One of the vehicles was used particularly intensively and achieved a peak load of around 100,000 kilometers in one year. “The results provide new insights into the service life of the battery, the number of possible discharge and charge cycles, range, energy consumption and reliability,” summarizes the Mercedes-Benz brochure. In the years that followed, Mercedes-Benz applied the electric drive concept to other passenger cars.
The question remains why electric vehicles are only now establishing themselves and why they did not start because of the projects at the time. Battery life, range, recycling, charging infrastructure and vehicle price are just a few of the key words in a press release from Mercedes-Benz in spring 1991 as challenges for electromobility on the way to series production. Many of the answers to these questions are only available today, as shown by the range of hybrid vehicles from Mercedes-Benz and of course the EQ electric brand. Projects like the 190 with electric propulsion have helped provide these answers. All of the knowledge that the experts gathered in the nineties has contributed to the extensive knowledge pool of vehicle development that engineers use in the development of today’s vehicles. In addition, some of the engineers who worked with the electric drive on the W 201 are still active in the development of the company’s electric vehicles and are therefore involved in the latest projects. This innovation movement can only go in one direction: forward, to bring the future into the present.