Mercedes-Benz pioneered E-power with a full electric 190 sedan already some 30 years ago…

Large-scale electric-drive test on the island of Rügen in 1992: Mercedes-Benz contributed ten 190 cars and ten MB 100 D vans.

Electric vehicles have progressed with leaps and bounds over the last few years. Developments in battery technology have helped massively to make E-vehicles now a practical proposition. But this doesn’t mean that our European car manufacturers didn’t focus on it since decades…

Mercedes is of course no exception. They had a fully fledged, 100 % electrified 190 sedan running around on the German Baltic Coast island of Rüge. Recharged with sustainable wind power. Fully practical. One of the fleet of 10 cars even functioned as a taxi and clocked not less than 100.000 kilometers in one short year. All this almost 3 decades ago…

Just read on!

Hans Knol ten Bensel

Mercedes-Benz 190 model, experimental vehicle (W 201) with electric drive, 1991.

One such story is set in 1990: in May of that year, Mercedes-Benz exhibited a model 190 (W 201) converted to electric drive in the innovation market section at the Hanover Fair.

A (literally) very hot car…

The electric 190s were used to test different drive configurations and battery systems. The energy storage devices tested were mainly sodium-nickel chloride or sodium-sulphur high-energy batteries which had a significantly higher energy density than classic lead batteries.

However, the working temperature of both systems was around 300 degrees Celsius. The group expressing the greatest interest at this industrial fair were representatives of the trades.

Further development went fast…

There was a considerable shift in this just under a year later, when, in March 1991, Mercedes-Benz displayed a more advanced vehicle on the Geneva Motor Show.

Each of the rear wheels of the vehicle presented in Geneva was powered by its own DC motor energized by permanent magnets with a peak power of 16 kW (22 hp) each, so the total power output was 32 kW (44 hp).

Energy was supplied by a sodium-nickel chloride battery, and regenerative braking returned energy to the power pack during braking actions.

A particular advantage of the concept was the elimination of weight-intensive mechanical components, so the additional weight compared to a series-production vehicle with a combustion engine was only 200 kilograms.

The issue of electric cars experienced an upswing at that time as a result of the laws passed in California, for example, to introduce zero emission vehicles.

This led the German government to fund a project to the tune of 60 M DM (now some 30 M Euros), and this led to several manufacturers, including Mercedes-Benz, to participate in a large scale field trial was conducted on the island of Rügen in 1992 and continued through to 1996.

The aim of the exercise was to test electric vehicles and energy systems including their batteries in everyday practice. A total of 60 passenger cars and vans of several brands were involved.

Among other things, Mercedes-Benz sent ten W 201 model series saloon cars, which had previously been fitted by hand with drive components in various electric motor-and-battery combinations in Sindelfingen, to Rügen. Special recharging stations using solar collectors were available during the field test with a view to testing the environmental concept in a consistent manner because only electricity from renewable sources can be considered completely CO2 neutral.

100,000 kilometres in one year with an electric test vehicle

The pioneering 190s were driven by test participants on the island of Rügen: these various individuals, including taxi drivers, used them in normal everyday life. There were hardly any problems – the W 201 cars went about their work completely inconspicuously and reliably. One of the vehicles was used particularly intensively and achieved a peak usage rate of around 100,000 kilometres in one year.

Why did it take so long to adopt E-power for the masses?

The obvious question is why we waited so long to put E-powered cars into practice in larger numbers?

Mercedes-Benz 190 (W 201) test vehicle with an electric drive unit during the large-scale test series on the island of Rügen, 1992 to 1996.

The problems then – and now – were: battery service life, range, recycling, charging infrastructure and vehicle price. Many of the answers to these questions have only become available today, as can be seen by the range of hybrid vehicles offered by Mercedes-Benz and, of course, the EQ electric brand. Projects like the 190 with the electric drive have helped to provide these answers…and it is very interesting to look into them here once again!

Hans Knol ten Bensel

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