Published on January 15th, 2016 | by Zachary Shahan


Mercedes & Audi Introduce More Plug-In Hybrids

January 15th, 2016 by  

Originally published on EV Obsession.

First, let me note that I’m not anti-PHEVs. I think plug-in hybrids serve a fine place in the market today. For people who only have one car, who take long-distance trips in cars fairly regularly, or who just have insane commutes (LA, Atlanta, Houston, Orlando residents, I’m probably looking at you), plug-in hybrids are a good alternative at this point (unless you have enough money for a Tesla).

But I haven’t been shy to state what few people know: pure EVs drive much more nicely than most PHEVs. If the PHEV is really designed as an electric car with a range extender — like the Chevy Volt and BMW i3 REx are — they still drive like electric cars when in EV mode. However, almost every PHEV on the market isn’t designed that way.

Audi A3 e-Tron

Audi A3 Sportback e-tron

One of the new PHEVs in the US arrived on the market a couple of days agothe Audi A3 Sportback e-tron. In that link right there, you can find my review of the car from several months ago. In many ways, it is a great car. It’s got comfortable seating, decent space, decent tech and quality materials, and a pretty sport drive. However, it’s the car that really made me realize that PHEVs like that just don’t cut it for me.

And if the reduced drive quality isn’t enough for you, note that the electric range is just ~17 miles.

All of that said, if you’re in the market for a PHEV rather than a fully electric car or extended-range electric car, this is probably one of the hottest options on the table. Furthermore, I did get to drive a diesel Audi A3 recently (this car’s identical twin sibling) and I did experience that the A3 e-tron is worlds better than the A3 TDI. Seriously, don’t even think about getting the non-electric Audi A3 Sportback. That would be like choosing a Nokia phone from 2000 rather than a Samsung Galaxy.

Mercedes E 350e

Mercedes E 350e plug-in hybrid

While Audi just released its inaugural PHEV in the US (and has had it on the European market for several months), Mercedes (which has a few on the European market as well) is looking ready to launch one in the US. Mercedes brought the 10th generation of its E-Class to the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit.

Admittedly, the gas and diesel versions of the new E-Class will launch in the US first, but an E 350e plug-in hybrid is apparently lined up for a later launch. And that basically captures the spirit of Mercedes and Audi in general….

These are basically compliance cars. They have been designed and will be produced in order to satisfy EU and US regulations regarding fuel economy and harmful emissions. The companies are not fully behind this technology or these models, and they’ll likely offer them to very limited markets (just like the Volkswagen e-Golf, Volkswagen Golf GTE, and Mercedes B-Class Electric). Quite likely, they won’t try very hard to sell them, will put out limited and mediocre advertising that ignores their top two consumer benefits, and won’t get dealers very informed or enthusiastic about them.

Similar to the Audi A3 e-tron, the E 350e will have ~19 miles of electric range. If you still actually care to learn more about this car, here are some specs:

Its four-cylinder gasoline engine, in conjunction with an electric motor, gives it a total system output of 210 kW (286 hp) with a system torque of 550 N·m. With this set-up, the E 350 e achieves the performance of a sports car yet consumes less fuel than a small, compact-class car: some 2.1 l/100 km (112 mpg US).

The most powerful diesel variant will feature a six-cylinder engine incorporating advanced SCR exhaust technology, with an output of 190 kW (258 hp) and a peak torque of 620 N·m. Another variant to join the range will be the E 400 4MATIC whose six-cylinder gasoline engine has an output of 245 kW (333 hp) and a maximum torque of 480 N·m.

Further variants will later complete the engine range, including a new four-cylinder diesel unit developing 110 kW (150 hp). The range of gasoline engines will comprise four-cylinder versions with outputs ranging from 135 to 180 kW (183 to 245 hp) plus a six-cylinder variant developing 245 kW (333 hp).

All engines for the new E-Class are equipped with the ECO start/stop function. The gasoline engines meet the requirements of the EU 6 emissions standard, while the new OM 654 four-cylinder diesel engine is already configured with future RDE limits in mind.

All models available at market launch are equipped with the new 9G-TRONIC nine-speed automatic transmission as standard. It enables fast gear changes and allows low engine revs, which has a particularly beneficial effect on efficiency and noise levels.

I don’t know if I should laugh or cry at those last few lines.

Mercedes and Audi execs apparently won’t say it as directly as Sergio Marchionne and Marc Tarpenning have, but the point is: Mercedes, Audi, and almost every (if not every) large automaker doesn’t actually want to sell electric cars or stimulate an EV revolution. If they could control the future, they’d apparently build and sell enough gasoline- and diesel-powered cars to fry future humans.

I’m pretty confident we’ll see limited sales of the Audi A3 e-tron and Mercedes-Benz E 350e plug-in hybrids in the US. In the meantime, Tesla will be eating more and more of these car companies’ lunches. Just as well!

Check out our new 93-page EV report, based on over 2,000 surveys collected from EV drivers in 49 of 50 US states, 26 European countries, and 9 Canadian provinces.

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About the Author

is tryin' to help society help itself (and other species) with the power of the typed word. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director and chief editor, but he's also the president of Important Media and the director/founder of EV Obsession, Solar Love, and Bikocity. Zach is recognized globally as a solar energy, electric car, and energy storage expert. Zach has long-term investments in TSLA, FSLR, SPWR, SEDG, & ABB — after years of covering solar and EVs, he simply has a lot of faith in these particular companies and feels like they are good cleantech companies to invest in.

  • eveee

    Thank you so much. The Gen 2 Volt is radically different from the Gen 1. I have been noticing that the Gen 2 is a total redesign, not an update.
    Gen 2 CS2 mode is clearly directly coupled to the engine and the motor also couples. So in CS2 mode, the motor can do some power or regen. That is classic parallel hybrid territory.
    The Gen 1 looks like engine couples directly to the wheels through the MG shaft. Thats an interesting arrangement.
    Because Gen 1 has series MG sets and a direct path to the wheels, it can act in series hybrid mode or parallel mode, depending on operation and control.

  • sjc_1

    Five years ago BMW and other German car makers would have told you that you do not need hybrids, now they are introducing all kinds of models.

  • newnodm

    The problem with most PHEVs is that the electric drive is a high priced add-on that takes up space.

    There probably is the need for larger purpose built PHEVs, but the automakers aren’t building these vehicles. It’s all clunky add-ons.

  • Freddy D

    I realized the problem with PHEVs when I read more details on the Chrysler minivan, and this E350e affirms it: Cost. This contraption has ALL the production cost and weight and bulk of the standard E350 AND MORE for the battery, power module, and added complexity to get all this to play nicely together. It won’t be long before someone (Tesla perhaps?) can put together a full 400 mile range EV with DCFC for cheaper than this complex, heavy, bulky system. This is a compliance car, as is the Chrysler van, which is reported to cost an extra $10,000 to make! Why would I pay an extra $10,000 for an EV? I don’t think the vast majority of consumers would pay that much more. These cars are 5 years late, I’m afraid. They work in a world of $20/gallon gasoline. It’s hard for me to imagine good sales volumes for these cars.

    Advice to automakers who want to come out the other end of this transition healthy: focus on 1) pure EV platforms and perfecting that, quickly. and 2) for range extension, drop the transmission altogether, go for the EV with an on-board generator, which can run at fixed RPM, optimized atkinson cycle for efficiency, lightness, and bulk.

    and sure, sell the awesome turbo-direct-injection 4 cylinder with 9 speed gearbox to fulfill current market demand and fund the EV effort.

  • hybridbear

    I think plug-in hybrids serve a fine place in the market today. For people who only have one car, who take long-distance trips in cars fairly regularly … plug-in hybrids are a good alternative at this point (unless you have enough money for a Tesla).

    But I haven’t been shy to state what few people know: pure EVs drive much more nicely than most PHEVs.

    I agree completely! We currently have a BEV & a PHEV for this reason. We need the PHEV at least a half dozen times per year for longer trips. If Tesla continues to expand the Supercharger network in the upper midwest our next car will likely be a CPO Model S and we’ll go back to being a one-car household. We used to be a one-car household before getting a BEV as the second car.

  • markogts

    This batch of german PHEVs has only one rationale: lower the fleet average consumption rating under NEDC testing conditions. In real life, it’s very difficult to avoid the ICE starting even with high SoC, the range is too small and there would be no point for the owner of a similar car to invest in charging stations, cables, contracts for charging etc.

    Until they don’t ditch the gearbox and reduce dramatically the power level of the ICE, they won’t be credible.

    • “This batch of german PHEVs has only one rationale: lower the fleet average consumption rating under NEDC testing conditions.”
      -I agree.

    • Dan Hue

      European cities are increasingly banning (or planning to ban) CO2 emitting cars from their center, so the architecture of the PHEVs described here does make some sense. Not so much in the US tough, where IMO the Volt concept is better suited. However, I also think that battery tech is evolving fast enough that this will be a mere transition.

      • Spencerforhire

        I agree . . London , UK has a “Congestion” charge that is waved with Plug-ins!

    • Spencerforhire

      The Reason that the manufacturers of “PHEVs” , “has only ONE rationale:” is because “they” make NO money on them . . . .all the myths about Plug-ins are falling away and the true “lower” cost, to the consumer, is becoming evident !

      The top four “CONSUMER” Reports “consumer” picks, for satisfaction, are “Plug-ins”

  • onesecond

    I really can’t wait for the EVs to take over. The day before yesterday I was talking a very nice walk at the waterfront, it was an unusual warm and sunny spring day for January in Germany, but then I went to the metrotram station to head back, where I was surrounded by ICE car traffic and it was horrific, smelly, noisy, suffocating. Life would be so much better if these things died already.

    • accolade

      8 years ago it seemed like EVs would be the next direction. Oil prices per barrel were at their highest, the price of a gas per gallon were reaching all time record highs here in the States.
      Fast forward 8 years later, gas prices are tumbling down back to early 2000 rate with analyst predicting we will soon reach gas prices that match low prices last seen since 1999.

      This doesn’t necessary spell doom for EV, but it won’t help the shift much.
      If any gas powered vehicles are going to increase, and you will see more big body vehicles come back into fold as being viable due to low cost to refueling.

      • Freddy D

        What’s stunning about this stage in history is EV sales growth remains absolutely solid in the face of $1.99 and soon to be $0.99 / gallon gasoline. Just as solar growth was unfazed by cheap natural gas over the past several years. I read that a barrel of oil can be had in Alberta for $8 now, the same week we heard of all these automotive EV announcements.

        • Matt

          But yes, at least in the USA it is time to raise the gas tax to get the highway fund back on solid ground. In 30 years will we need a different funding approach, yes. But for now EV should be left out. Since semi do the most damage and will likely be one of last to switch, cranking up the fuel tax is even better.

        • neroden

          Tesla very intelligently targeted the top of the car market.

          We *know* the top of the car market isn’t price-sensitive (otherwise they would be buying cheaper cars!) and so they were not buying the cars to save money on gas anyway.

          Electric cars are eating the upper end of the market now.

          The not-very-price-sensitive part of the market extends all the way down to cars starting at $45K. (If you’re willing to pay 50% more than the median new car price, you’re not price sensitive.) I would expect that low gas prices would have no effect whatsoever on the EV market down as far as this price — and probably quite a lot lower, actually.

      • Kraylin

        You are right on the mark and every gas vehicle that is sold in the next several years will be around for many more years after they stop selling gas vehicles.

    • Agreed. We walk a lot (we’re car free), and that means walking next to a lot of pollution, even here in Europe. It sucks. And I regularly think how much I wish the EV transition was already over (as in, everywhere were EVs).

      • Foersom

        Poland is not known for its environmental credentials, but it will come some day.

        • Indeed. And the grid is ~90% coal. Not cool.

          Luckily, the city I live in is very walkable and transit-friendly, and esp. our neighborhood.

          Wish I could drop this city on the coast of Florida. 😀

  • eveee

    Victory goes to the swift and bold. Hedging with PHEVs is not going to hack it. Figure out a Volt, which is a better than average PHEV, and a Bolt. The price differential is a few thousand. Battery prices are dropping and ranges are getting longer and past acceptable. Pretty soon EVs will cost the same as PHEVs. They are going to cannibalize the PHEV market. Already, hybrids are not doing as well as EVs. Once word gets out and people realize EVs are a better experience and cost of ownership is less than ICE and HEVs, the stampede will start. It won’t just be me, too. the stragglers will realize the boat is leaving. Change or perish.

  • JD234

    Just got a bunch of excited emails from my local Audi dealer telling me they finally had an e-Tron in stock to test drive. Kind of enjoyed telling them that, in the four months since I had sent my inquiry emails (back when they said they’d have cars by November), I had since bought a Volt with 3X the EV mileage for $10K less.

    • accolade

      the new 2016 model Volt? Not bad.

      • JD234

        The key thing was that the Volt gets the full federal and state rebates, which in our state was 10K vs about 5K for the Audi. That and the fact that Volt starts 5K less (plus the willingness of the American dealers to properly bargain), and it was actually nearly 12K less than the Audi would have been. I like the look and better visibility of the Audi, but it’s not nearly worth the trade-off in money and range.

        And regarding Zachary’s suggestion below — I’d never test drive it now, I don’t want to discover something I might regret!

    • Solid decision. Congrats.

      (But hey, go in for the test drive anyway. 😀 And happy to publish a comparison article. :D)

  • JamesWimberley

    I suggest seeing these cars as insurance policies, hedges. If EVs ever really take off, thinks Top Legacy Carmaker executive, we will have the design teams and experience to jump in fast. If they fizzle, we won’t lose much. Clever, eh?

    Actually no. As the post says, the dual drive technology they are backing is a dead end. The future belongs to electric drive trains on platforms designed for them; possibly with range extenders tucked in some corner, but these don’t operate at all like drive ICEs. When the crunch time comes, the half-hearted will find their “experience” is worthless and they will get the empty plate they deserve.

    • Frank

      I agree. I don’t think it is safe to give Tesla too much of a head start. They might not stop. If the X and the 3 become a success, they will make enough money to get much bigger. They already looked like they were sucking a few buyers away from the premium large market.

      • Jenny Sommer

        There isn’t much falling behind. Combustion engines are a core competence of automakers but you can buy EV platforms and drivetrains from suppliers. Magna will happily sell you anything you need (though they sold there battery pack division to Samsung last year) or develope and supply anything you demand.
        Small companies like Kreisel can sell 200miles range Vivano Vans for under 80k€.
        VW could produce 100k 200miles cars next year if they wanted and push for enough chargers.

        • Jenny Sommer

          There was some more information about the MEB platform.
          They say it is a pure EV platforms not intended to take REX ICE engines. It is basically what Tesla is building.
          The problem is that there still is much more money to be made with ICE cars.

        • neroden

          Sure, you can buy from suppliers… if you want to make small numbeers of a bad product.

          There aren’t enough batteries to supply Tesla, so Tesla built their own battery supply factory.

          Tesla is thermally managing their battery back with a custom-designed heat pump; Nissan isn’t so their batteries die fast.

          Et Cetera.

          • Jenny Sommer

            Why would a small manufacturer or major supplier make a bad product?
            Why couldn’t a major manufacturer scale a good product by a small manufacturer to built high quantities of a good product?
            Do you believe VWs MEB platform to be a bad product?
            Do you know that there wouldn’t be enough batteries to supply a major manufacturer going electric in 2017/2018?
            That’s just a lot of predictions based on almost nothing but Musk building a battery factory and people talking about it.

      • Bob_Wallace

        The real danger is probably to the manufacturers who are not in the top 20. The big boys (is that sexist?) had the capital to bring EVs to the market quickly and build a charging system. Or buy into an existing system.

        The lower volume producers may wait too long and not have the capital to catch up.

        • eveee

          A thought. GM stopped dead in its tracks with PHEV tech at Cadillac ELR vs Model S pure EV. More evidence PHEV is a dead end. GM intended to go long with Voltec and add it to the rest of their model line long term. It looks like that is not going to happen. So you don’t even have to compare Bolt and Volt. The writing is on the wall. GM cannot use Voltec in the lux sedan segment and now lux SUV segment anymore. Its dead. Well maybe some in the utility market for long range.

          The Mitsu and Volvo offerings are off to a good start. There is demand. Still, same thing. If Tesla gets successful and offers the Model Y as a mid size SUV……

          The door is closing on hybrids and PHEVs. They don’t disappear right away, but….

          Pessimism regarding EVs is starting to get replaced with a real possibility that ICE are doomed long term. That graph of US luxury sedan sales is mind boggling.

          What if that continues?

    • Ross

      Carlos Ghosn appears get it on the use of range extenders, or he’s at least saying the right things.

    • Jenny Sommer

      Maybe thats why the developed something like the MEB platform.
      VW, Audi, Skoda, Seat, Porsche and even Lamborghini, Bentley and Bugatti can built on that.

    • Shiggity

      We have to be careful when talking about ‘hybrids’ in the future.

      The good hybrids are the ones that can use *Both* the ICE + electric motors at the same time. The shitty hybrids have both systems and only use one at a time for efficiency. Like you’ve said, that latter system is trash and I agree.

      Having both ICE + electric motors for efficiency is a waste of time, go pure electric if that’s your goal.

      If you want pure performance, you’ll need both. I call these cars ‘super hybrids’, but there isn’t really a specific name for them yet.

      • Foersom

        > I call these cars ‘super hybrids’

        It is called a parallel hybrid.

  • Matt

    So been thinking the industry needs some definitions to separate what they are sell, we are seeing.
    (A)Pure Cvs
    (B)PHEVs with range extender, ICE drives generator and is not connected to wheels.
    (C)PHEVs with ICE also connected to wheels.
    (D)non-PlugIn HEv (like Prius)
    So the above are (C), correct? Which means they haven’t gotten the memo yet.
    So a step up from, the Prius which first went on sale in Japan in 1997.

    • eveee

      Good list. Now if we can only get GM to admit whether the Volt is b or c.

      • Otis11

        The volt is typically b… But can operate in c under certain conditions.

        • jeffhre

          C+ Or B-

          A clutch can connect the gas engine to the wheels!

        • eveee

          I can’t figure out what GM means by “not directly coupled”. You got an explanation?

          • Otis11

            So, by “directly coupled” GM means the gas engine runs a generator to produce electricity which then powers the tires and that the engine itself doesn’t turn the tires.

            This is really only a half truth, as it turns out. While this is true under most operating conditions, the volt does have a mechanical linkage by which the gas engine is “indirectly coupled” to the wheels. They claim it’s indirect because there’s no transmission and the gas engine never powers the vehicle alone (Only in tandem with the generator… Which is actually acting as a motor in this case). This only happens when at highway speed – while there is no clear cutoff (the car calculates how much power it needs to maintain speed and runs the numbers to determine the most efficient option) it tends to be around 70 mph if on flat ground. Make no mistake though, no matter how they word it, the wheels can be turned by the gas engine.

            As an electrical guy, the test is over my head… But if something is unclear I can try to clarify…?

          • eveee

            I only want to know exactly how the engine powers the wheels in a mode where no battery power is used. You dig? There seems to be at least a clutch and a planetary gearbox in between. I can’t figure out if they drive generator and then a motor over 70mph. With a mixer they might even combine generator/motor and direct mechanical coupling.
            My definition of direct coupling is a direct mechanical coupling from engine to wheels. That can include clutch and gearbox.
            If GM says they don’t do that, I am confused on what they really do.A
            A Prius does directly couple the engine to the wheels via planetary gearbox in some modes and at some speeds. From what I know, they always use some battery power at low speeds. Seems like the Volt operates this way, too.

          • Otis11

            To my understanding (Which I readily admit is quite limited on this matter), you are correct, the engine can couple through a secondary or maybe tertiary?) Clutch and a planetary gearbox to drive the wheels. (Though only at high speeds due to the gearing ratio and inky while the smaller generator is working in coordination)

            So yes, I believe you are correct in your assessment if I understand.

          • eveee

            Thanks for the patience, Otis. I got this link that is pretty nice. I think I get it now. Both Gen1 and Gen2 could directly couple engine to wheels, I am pretty sure now. Just needed to have some good confirmation.
            Take a look. Its surprising how much they changed Gen1 to Gen2.


          • Otis11

            Haha, absolutely, though I don’t feel like I really helped much – you seem to understand it better than I do. (I had my brother – mechanical engineer – explain it to me when it first came out, but past that…)

            And in that link I didn’t see what they changed to gen2? (Thanks for that btw – wasn’t aware there were major changes)

    • markogts

      C has two important sub-categories. Just compare the ratio of electric vs ICE power of these german fakes and a PHEV like the Outlander. The fact that there is a gearbox between the wheels and the electric motor makes you understand that the electric motor is just astroturfing.

    • markogts

      Anyway, if there is an ICE on board, it’s a pity not to have a mechanical link direct to the wheels. At steady high speed, there is no point of converting energr from mechanical to electrical and then back to mechanical. I prefer the Volt over the BMW i3 with REX.

      • Matt

        Was really looking at how much extra drive train the ICE drags in. EV can be direct at wheel. Removing a lot of parts that need to be maintained and replaced. All these PHEV with less the 30-50 miles pure EV are just stall tactics to try to stay in the game. At 50 miles that gets almost everyones daily driving. Then it become a question of how it address long trips that for 99% of drivers does not happen that often. I guess a trade off would be, the EV attached to the front wheels. ICE do battery top off at slow speed, if battery below at critical level and not close to home. During that it runs at optimal speed. If at high speed and need it is clutched into rear wheel. Since only push wheel at high speed need less gears in transmission.

        • markogts

          “long trips that for 99% of drivers does not happen that often.”

          They don’t happen that often, but they do bear a lot of energy… it’s the distance driven that counts, not the times you drove it. Suppose you drive 150 miles every second weekend. That is already 4000 miles, out of 8-12000. Not negligible. (Of course, I’m assuming a single car for a family. Second cars don’t have this user profile usually).

          “ICE do battery top off at slow speed, if battery below at critical level and not close to home. During that it runs at optimal speed. If at high speed and need it is clutched into rear wheel.”

          You described nearly perfectly the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, except it has motors on both axes and the engine drives the front wheels. There is a very tall, fixed, gear that engages only above 45MPH. No wear, no moving parts except rotating shafts.

      • neroden

        Diesel locomotives (for trains) figured out long ago that there was no point whatsoever in having a mechanical link to the wheels. Pure electrical transmission since the 1960s.

        And those go at steady high speeds. 🙂

        • markogts

          I wouldn’t use diesel-electric trains as examples of environmental consciousness, would you? Design and maintain a clutch for 100 kW and 200.000 miles is slightly different from 4000 kW and million miles…

    • Foersom

      B is called a serial hybrid e.g. BMW I3REx.
      C is a parallel hybrid e.g. VW Golf GTE.

      Surprisingly Chevrolet Volt is sometimes a B, sometimes C. In my book it then should be classified as C.

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