The Mercedes-Benz A-Class has been used since 2002 as a study for testing the vehicle drive of the future in the form of the F-Cell model. Since the end of 2004, 60 of these A-Class units powered by a fuel cell have been driven in Germany, the USA, Japan and Singapore as part of a long-term trial under realistic everyday conditions. By the summer of 2005 the cars had already traveled 370,000 kilometers. Around one third of the mileage was clocked up in Singapore alone. Six A-Class F-Cell cars were driven here by BP, Conrad, Lufthansa, Michelin and the National Environment Agency (NEA). In September 2003 several A-Class F-Cell units had already been used as shuttle cars for journalists at the Frankfurt International Motor Show.
The A-Class F-Cell cars are manufactured as the world’s first small series of passenger cars with fuel-cell drive to be tested by customers. The entire fuel cell system fits into the sandwich floor of the Mercedes-Benz A-Class with long wheelbase (W 168). Two pressurized-hydrogen tanks (350 bar) provide a range of 150 kilometers with a hydrogen consumption corresponding to a diesel equivalent of 4.2 liters per 100 kilometers (56 mpg). The electric motor generates 88 hp (65 kW) and accelerates the car from standstill to 100 km/h in 16 seconds; the top speed is around 140 km/h.
NECAR series testing the drive of the future
The A-Class F-Cell's predecessors were the NECAR 3 - NECAR 5 research cars. The code stands for "New Electric Car". Using the example of NECAR 3 in 1997, DaimlerChrysler demonstrated that the hydrogen for the fuel cell can also be produced on board the vehicle itself using a liquid fuel. NECAR 3 operated on methanol and reached a top speed of 120 km/h. In addition to the fuel-cell system and a sizeable reformer, there was room for two passengers in the research car based on the Mercedes-Benz A-Class. In 1999 NECAR 4 came along, in which the compact fuel-cell drive with an output of 70 kilowatts was housed completely inside the sandwich floor of an A-Class. This car was powered by fluid hydrogen; it reached a top speed of 145 km/h and had a range of 450 kilometers. It provided sufficient space for five people and their luggage. NECAR 4a was set up for use in the fleet test of the California Fuel Cell Partnership. Its more advanced drive technology was based on the NECAR 4 but used pressurized hydrogen and was significantly more compact.
NECAR 5 of the year 2000 finally was a fully operational fuel-cell car which was operated with the hydrogen carrier methanol as fuel. With its technology adopted from NECAR 3, the research car reached speeds of more than 150 km/h. The complete drive system together with the methanol reformer sat in the underbody of the Mercedes-Benz A-Class. Compared to NECAR 3 it had around 50 percent more output and was 300 kilograms lighter. In 2002 NECAR 5 established a long-distance record for fuel-cell vehicles of 5250 kilometers: it traveled across America from San Francisco to Washington, and after the heat of California it had to endure the cold and the snow of the Sierra Nevada and the Rocky Mountains. The car coped with passes up to 2640 meters high and stop-and-go operation in large cities.
A-Class HyPer with hybrid drive
In 1999 the A-Class HyPer study with hybrid drive was realized. The 1.7 liter CDI engine with an output of 90 hp (66 kW) drives the front axle, while a 26 kW electric motor acts on the rear axle. A sporty hybrid car was thus produced with four-wheel drive option. With the electric motor’s support, the car accelerates from standstill to 100 km/h in just eight seconds, while the production version of the A 170 CDI requires 13 seconds for the same acceleration. The HyPer owes its additional output to the high torque of the electric motor. In spite of its high performance, the HyPer consumes less diesel than the production model: 4.9 liters per 100 kilometers (48 mpg).