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EQ Power: Mercedes switches on its electric drive

The new E 350 e is the brand's first plug-in hybrid electric vehicle in Singapore. Will it drive the technology into the mainstream?

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The E 350 e has a battery-powered electric motor with 88 horsepower (hp), and a 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine that has 211 hp. Mercedes says that on a full charge its 6.2 kilowatt-hour batteries deliver 33km of quiet, emissions-free electric propulsion.

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The E 350 e has a battery-powered electric motor with 88 horsepower (hp), and a 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine that has 211 hp. Mercedes says that on a full charge its 6.2 kilowatt-hour batteries deliver 33km of quiet, emissions-free electric propulsion.

Singapore

A NEW model has quietly joined the local Mercedes-Benz price list, but then this is one car that does most things quietly. The E 350 e went on sale in Singapore on Sept 7, making it the first plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) from the three-pointed star brand here.

Such PHEVs are effectively two cars in one - they combine electric drive with a conventional fuel engine to offer the silence and efficiency of the former with the performance and convenience of the latter.

The E 350 e has a battery-powered electric motor with 88 horsepower (hp), and a 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine that has 211 hp.

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Mercedes says that on a full charge its 6.2 kilowatt-hour batteries deliver 33km of quiet, emissions-free electric propulsion. On a blazing hot day with the air-conditioner running, however, the range is more realistically in the mid-20 km zone.

But that's where the petrol engine takes over and gives the Mercedes all the versatility of a normal car whose tank you fill after days of use.

Both petrol and electric engines can work together to burn rubber, too. The E 350 e scurries to 100km/h in only 6.2 seconds.

PHEVs were introduced to Singapore by Porsche. The German sportscar specialist launched plug-in versions of its Panamera and Cayenne (a four-seat grand tourer and large Sport Utility Vehicle respectively) in 2014.

Mercedes' arch-rival BMW has been the most aggressive with the technology, and currently has six plug-in models on sale in Singapore.

As at the end of August this year there were 297 PHEVs on the road here, according to figures from the Land Transport Authority. That makes the segment a fast growing one, with only 206 such cars here at the end of last year.

The trend mirrors a global one that has seen plug-in sales skyrocket in recent years. Worldwide, plug-in sales have grown more than 50 per cent every year since 2014, and the car industry is expected to sell 1.9 million of them in 2018.

That would bring the total number of PHEVs on the road to 5.2 million around the world, but against a global car population of 1.4 billion, the market for electrified cars is far from saturated.

That being so, Mercedes-Benz is among many carmakers scrambling to electrify its product range. By 2022 there will be an electrified version of every model in its lineup, from compact cars to sport utilities. To signal their green credentials, the cars will wear "EQ Power" badges.

But plug-ins are seen as a bridge to a longer-term future in which fossil fuel engines are no longer part of the landscape.

Earlier this month, Mercedes unveiled the EQC, a battery-powered SUV with a range of 450km while just this week Audi launched the e-Tron, another SUV that is its first full-electric car.

Both were created to challenge California's Tesla, which sold more than 70,000 electric cars in the first half of 2018.

Their glitzy global launches were a stark contrast to the way the E 350 e crept into Singapore with no fanfare. Perhaps that might be an indication of how, at S$305,888 (with Certificate Of Entitlement), the technology is for the well-heeled. In contrast, the most affordable E-Class, the E 200 with a straightforward (and less powerful) petrol engine, costs S$245,888.

In Singapore the top-selling variants of each Mercedes model are invariably the cheapest ones, with pricier versions usually accounting for only a handful of sales.

That being so, until plug-in technology comes down in price to narrow the gap to more traditional models, the road to an electrified future could be an uphill one here.