Platform sharing often requires some compromises, and that’s doubly true of EVs built out of cars that were originally designed for internal combustion powertrains. Older vehicles like the Hyundai Ioniq Electric, Fiat 500e, and Honda Clarity EV featured ranges of less than 100 miles, which was barely enough for EV enthusiasts, much less typical shoppers and their attendant range anxiety.
That’s why we were a bit surprised when Christoph Starzynski, Mercedes-Benz vice president of development for electric drive, told us in an interview that the next-generation A-Class and B-Class compact cars would offer both internal combustion and electric propulsion. But the concession apparently will be the onus of the traditional engines, rather than the EV powertrain. In an about-face from the likes of the BMW i4, Kia Niro EV, and even Benz’s own EQB, the A-Class’ so-called MMA platform will be designed for electric vehicles, then adapted to accept petrol and diesel powertrains for markets that demand them.
“The platform will be EV-first but not EV-exclusive, and the compromise will rest on the ICE side, not the EV side,” Starzynski said.
The compact modular MMA platform will debut in 2024, likely residing under the next-generation Mercedes-Benz A-Class before spreading to the CLA fastback saloon, GLA and GLB compact SUVs, and B-Class compact MPV. In EV form, the MMA cars will learn lots of lessons from the EQXX concept car, including its air-cooled battery’s unique anode chemistry that improves power density. Active aerodynamics might also make the jump from the slippery concept to compact-car reality.
Gallery: 2021 Mercedes-Benz EQA
Specs of the petrol-powered A- and B-Class family remain a mystery (as they will for some time), but one reason they’ll even exist at all is to help Mercedes-Benz maintain a reasonable cost of entry for its least expensive vehicles. Its EVs will unavoidably be more expensive than their petrol-powered equivalents for some time.
“We will not achieve cost parity in the near future,” said Mercedes-Benz Chief Technology Officer Markus Schäfer in an interview with Motor1.com and other members of the press. “We have to face higher costs on an EV drivetrain for the next few years, and we have to look for compensation in the vehicle. Of course, we try to be as close as possible with compact cars, to reduce the cost to compensate for the higher cost within [the EV technology].”
One area in which Mercedes is pursuing cost reduction is software development and battery production. The company’s next-generation infotainment system, called MB.OS, is an in-house affair, with Mercedes software experts testing the interface at the new Electric Software Hub in Sindelfingen, Germany. Employing 750 (and counting) UX designers, engineers, and programmers, the Electric Software Hub also handles the research and production of Mercedes’ batteries and EV propulsion systems.
Although the automaker works with suppliers like NVIDIA and Bosch on the development of its infotainment and EV systems, keeping most of the design and production in-house will save money and give Mercedes-Benz control over the final result. “We want to be able to determine the future and products,” Schäfer said. “We want to be able to generate products quickly and with a high maturity level right away.“
MB.OS will debut with the electrified MMA platform on those aforementioned compact cars within the next two years. Internal-combustion vehicles will likely follow soon thereafter, perhaps in time for the 2025 model year.