2009 Detroit Auto Show: Mercedes-Benz BlueZERO Concept
By Kevin Miller
As you’ve likely read before, blue is the new green. The BlueZERO concept is the latest proof of that saying from Mercedes-Benz.
Following September’s introduction of the S400 BlueHYBRID, The BlueZERO concept is actually a set of three concept vehicles built on a single vehicle architecture. The vehicle is designed to accommodate various modes of propulsion, each of which is incorporated in one of the three concept cars. The BlueZERO vehicles are constructed with the same unique sandwich-floor architecture first seen on the Mercedes A-Class and continued with the B-Class. All three BlueZERO concepts use the same key technical components and share dimensions. The basic vehicle is 166 inches long, with seating for five adults and a 17.6 cubic-foot luggage compartment with a total vehicle payload capacity of about 1000 lbs.
Each BlueZERO concept car is fitted with a unique electrical propulsion systems. Each of the three powertrains features front-wheel drive, liquid-cooled lithium-ion batteries with storage capacity up to 35 kWh and electric motor with maximum output of 100 kW (134 HP). All three variants accelerate to 62 mph in less than 11 seconds, with an electronically-limited top speed of 93 mph meant to allow rapid travel while preserving travel range and efficiency.
The unique appearance of the BlueZERO E-CELL was truly eye-catching on the Mercedes stand, though not particularly pretty. The BlueZERO concept showcases an aerodynamic design featuring a closed front apron, as cooling air intakes are not required. The 20 inch wheels are aerodynamically designed and feature low-rolling-resistance tires. The tailgate skin is manufactured from translucent Lexan, allowing the aluminum frame inside and the unique LED to be visible through it. Similar LED lighting in organic shapes is used at the front of the car.
As it turns out, the beauty of the BlueZERO vehicles is not in its exterior sheetmetal but in its internal packaging. The sandwich construction of the BlueZERO results in a raised seating position, leading to excellent visibility and improved crash safety. Because each vehicle’s propulsion system sits below the floor, interior space is maximized, and the center of gravity is low. This architecture is especially beneficial in electric vehicles, which usually have cramped interiors and a lack of luggage space because batteries have to be stored in those areas.
The first vehicle in the series, and the one on display Detroit, is the ALU-BEAM yellow colored BlueZERO E-CELL, which has a battery-electric drivetrain and a range of 124 miles on electric drive from a 35 kWh battery with operating voltage between 240 and 426 V. The vehicle features a charging capacity of 15 kW when connected to a special charger, which stores enough energy for a range of 31 miles within 30 minutes. An hour of charging is needed for a range of 62 miles, and two hours charging is required for a 122 mile range, with a full charge coming in three to four hours. Charging times are doubled when charging from a household circuit, which can provide only 7 kW charging capacity.
Pictured in ALU-BEAM green paint, the second vehicle in the series is the BlueZERO F-CELL (fuel cell), which yields a hydrogen fuel cell has a range around 250 miles. The fuel cell has a maximum output of 90 kW, and can be started to temperatures as low as 13 degrees below 0, Farenheit. The BlueZERO F-Cell uses just 2.9 liters of fuel (diesel equivalent) per 100 km, which equates to approximately 97 MPG. Based on this fuel consumption and fuel capacity, the vehicle can cover over 250 miles, while emitting no exhaust fumes nor CO2- only water vapor. The BlueZERO F-CELL can operate solely on battery power, or on with the fuel cell depending on demand for power. The hydrogen fuel cell has shorter refueling times than previous Mercedes fuel cell vehicles.
The final vehicle in the series is the BlueZERO E-CELL PLUS, pictured in ALU-BEAM orange. The E-CELL PLUS features electric drive as is found E-CELL concept, but also has the same 1.0 liter 3-cylinder turbocharged engine used in the smart fortwo, used as a range extender which has an output of 50 kW (67 HP) at a constant 3500 RPM. When required it can charge the 17.5 kWh battery by an alternator. and an additional internal combustion engine used as a range extender. This version has an all-electric range of 62 miles, and a total range up to 370 miles with a full tank of fuel for the range extender. When operated on the range extender, fuel consumption on the extended European cycle is 4.5 liters/100 km (62 MPG). Mercedes technical information states that if configured properly, the range extender could directly drive the vehicle wheels or simply recharge the batteries while running in all-electric mode.
With the information about the BlueZERO concepts, Mercedes also announced the development of an additional platform for future compact vehicles with optimized, right-sized internal combustion engines. That platform will share components with the BlueZERO concepts, to provide flexibility in the manufacture of efficient Mercedes vehicles. Small-scale production of fuel cell cars is set to begin later this year, and small-scale production of battery electric driven vehicles is to commence in 2010. Whether either of those vehicles will feature the looks, architecture, or technology of the BlueZERO concept is unclear, but this clever trio from Mercedes offers a fresh look at the type of efficient vehicles it is looking like many of us may be driving in the future.
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