Mercedes To Offer New M-Class Hybrid SUVBy Scott Doggett June 8, 2011
Shortly after Mercedes-Benz launches its new 2012 M Class SUVs in September, the German automaker plans to offer American customers a new M-Class hybrid SUV. While Mercedes has not officially confirmed the hybrid, AutoObserver has it from a knowledgeable source and Daimler Chairman Dieter Zetsche hinted at it this week in Germany while unveiling the non-hybrid 2012 M Class (above). Zetsche said customers' expectations for green technologies are evolving, and yet at the same time, consumer attraction to luxury SUVs will not abate.
"And why should it? he remarked. "Think of the food industry: increased customer awareness for healthy food did not cut demand for eating well. Tofu simply isn't for everyone!" Continuing with the analogy, Zetsche said food production is expected to be more biologically sound so that people can enjoy great meals with a clear conscience, a trend that will actually stimulate demand for premium food. That's why we're confident about the future of SUVs that combine fascination and responsibility. In Europe, the 2012 ML250 will achieve its responsible status with state-of-the-art diesel technology that Zetsche said will set a new benchmark for fuel efficiency in the segment, requiring as little as 6 liters of diesel fuel for a 100-kilometer drive. In terms of torque, he said, its like a Sumo wrestler, but in terms of diet "it's more like a Victoria's Secret model."
Replacing A Tough Sell
In the U.S., the hybrid M-Class has been a tough sell. The ML450 Hybrid made its debut at the New York Auto Show in 2009 and has been on sale for two years. Its sale is restricted to lease-only because of concerns about the long-term reliability of the hybrid's battery pack. It also costs nearly $10,000 more than the non-hybrid gasoline variant; the MSRP is $55,790 $9,300 more than the all-wheel drive ML350. Both models are fitted with a gasoline-powered 3.5-liter V6. The ML450's price is boosted because it also is fitted with a pair of electric motors and an expensive battery pack and power controls.
For that added price, the ML450 Hybrid achieves an EPA efficiency rating of 24 mpg city and 21 mpg highway, compared to 13/18 mpg for the V8-powered ML550. The rival Lexus RX450h returns 30/28 mpg. The system in the ML450 enables the hybrid to run on gasoline or electric power alone at low speeds, or to use both power sources for increased performance. The hybrid system was developed with BMW and General Motors when Mercedes was married to Chrysler in the early part of the decade. GM uses the so-called dual mode system in its slow-selling Chevrolet and GMC hybrid trucks and SUVs and BMW uses it in its X6 hybrid crossover.
On the conventional side of the lineup, the 2012 M Class, built in Tuscaloosa, Ala. and launching in the U.S. this autumn, will offer an ML350 fitted with a gasoline-powered engine generating 302 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque (versus 268 hp and 258 pound-feet of torque in the present model), and an ML350 equipped with a diesel engine generating 240 hp and 455 pound-feet of torque (versus 201 hp and 400 pound-feet of torque now). Both models are said to meet emissions standards in all 50 states. Suggested retail prices have not been released.