Powertrain of the Mercedes-Benz Concept BlueZERO E-CELL, introduced in January 2009 in Detroit. Click to enlarge.

Mercedes-Benz is further expanding its center of excellence for compact vehicles by enlarging its Rastatt plant with an investment of €600 million (US$902 million). The first vehicles of the successor generation to the current A- and B-Class will roll off the assembly lines in Rastatt from the end of 2011.

From the end of 2010 production at the Rastatt plant will also be expanded with small series production of the battery-electric A-Class E-CELL. Daimler introduced three near-production Concept BlueZERO vehicles in January at the North American International Auto Show: the BlueZERO E-CELL with battery-electric drive; the BlueZERO F-CELL (fuel cell); and the BlueZERO E-CELL PLUS with electric drive and internal combustion engine as range extender. (Earlier post.)

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All three Concept BlueZERO models introduced in January featured front-wheel drive and liquid-cooled lithium-ion batteries with a storage capacity of up to 35 kWh and a compact electric motor with a maximum output of 100 kW (continuous output 70 kW), which develops a peak torque of 320 N·m (236 lb-ft).

All three variants accelerated from 0 to 100 km/h in less than 11 seconds. Their top speed was electronically limited to 150 km/h (93 mph) in the interests of optimal range and energy efficiency. The BlueZero E-CELL with battery-electric drive featured a range of up to 200 kilometers (124 miles) using electric drive alone.

With a charging capacity of 15 kW, the lithium-ion batteries in the BlueZERO E-CELL and the extended range E-Cell PLUS could store enough energy for a range of 50 kilometers (31 miles) within 30 minutes. In terms of purely electrical drive, one or two hours of charging time is needed for a range of 100 and 200 kilometers (62 miles and 124 miles) respectively. The charging times are doubled if the charging capacity is 7 kW, as would be the case in a normal household. Both of these BlueZERO vehicles incorporated an electronic control unit that supports intelligent charging stations and billing systems.

Small series production of the A-Class E-Cell will once again prove the expertise of the Rastatt plant in premium compact vehicles. The employees are also intensively preparing for the successor generation of the A- and B-Class—we are thus well-prepared and highly motivated for the future.

—Peter Wesp, head of the Mercedes-Benz plant in Rastatt:

An additional production hall, in which construction for the plant equipment for body shells will begin soon, has been built as an auxiliary to the existing building facilities in Rastatt. To enable part deliveries and unloading directly at the production site, a direct train connection is planned for the hall. The new body shell hall has an area of approximately 66,000 m2.

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With the expansion of its product line in the compact vehicle segment, in future Mercedes-Benz will be offering four models instead of the current two with a view to acquiring new customer groups and growing in additional markets. The future models will also offer product features like generous interior space, which are already popular with customers of the A- and B-Class.

With the A- and B-Class, Mercedes-Benz is already a successful premium manufacturer of compact vehicles. Since the A-Class entered production in 1997 and the B-Class in 2005 more than 2.4 million A- and B-Class vehicles have rolled off assembly lines. Between 2002 and 2005 Daimler AG invested about €900 million in the Rastatt plant for the second generation of the A-Class and the B-Class.

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The most important markets for the compact vehicles from Rastatt are Germany, Italy, France and the UK, Daimler said. In addition, this year the B-Class was successfully launched in China where it has gained a market share of 25%, significantly above expectations.

Daimler said it will also invest a further €800 million will be invested in a new plant at the Hungarian location of Kecskemét.

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