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Mercedes Benz touts fuel-cell car; sends it on world tour

Mercedes-Benz of Germany called on governments and utility companies across the world to help kick-start the use of fuel cells in cars by investing in a hydrogen infrastructure.

Mercedes, in a media presentation at the Detroit Car Show, said it will have 70 fuel-cell powered B-class vehicles on the road soon in California to help prove the concept. The company is promoting an around the world tour by the fuel-cell B Class, starting in Vancouver, Canada at the end of January, to promote the concept and prove its viability. The trip will last 125 days.

Mercedes said fuel cell cars are now at the same stage of development as early internal combustion engines in the late nineteenth century, when drivers had to buy gasoline from drug stores.

If fuel cells are too succeed, they first need a ready supply of hydrogen, Mercedes said.

The fuel-cell B class has a range of 200 miles on one tank of fuel, and takes about three minutes to refill, if you could find a hydrogen filling station.

Mercedes is planning to unveil an all-new second generation CLS later this year, a new C-class, SLK roadster and M class SUV with a Bluetec diesel engine.

According to Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche, Mercedes had a great year in 2010.

No doubt it will be even better in 2011,” he said.

Sales in the U.S. are expected to improve too, according to Mercedes officials at the presentation.

Mercedes’ U.S. sales rose 14 per cent in 2010 to 216,448, including Sprinter vans and Smart cars. That left Mercedes in third place amongst the luxury carmakers. Lexus was first with 229,329, while BMW was second with 220,113.

At the end of the presentation Zetsche unveiled an electric version of its iconic gull-wing, two-seater roadster. The SLS AMG E-cell has four-electric motors producing 525 hp and 649 lb ft of torque, and will go into production in 2013. The car can blast from rest to 60 mph in 3.7 seconds. The battery has an energy content of 48 kWh. Mercedes didn’t disclose the range of the car.

Former Commodores singer Lionel Ritchie used to perform at Mercedes events, but he has been replaced by Grammy award winner Colbie Caillat, who ended the Mercedes presentation with a song.

Neil Winton – January 15, 2011

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