Mercedes-Benz, as part of its collaboration with Tesla Motors, will produce 500 battery-powered “E-Cell” versions of its small A-Class, introducing the car at the Paris auto show in October.
According to Shirin Emeera, a Daimler spokeswoman, details of the electric car will be announced on Sept. 15. She said the car would be produced at the Mercedes Rastatt plant, near Stuttgart, Germany, where the A-Class (which is not sold in the United States) is produced. Delivery of the cars will begin early next year.
Tesla’s components, which include the battery pack and controller, will be shipped there to be integrated into the car.
Ms. Emeera said the E-Cell would have a range of 124 miles and produce 214 pound-feet of torque. She declined to provide further specifications, but JB Straubel, Tesla’s chief technical officer, said the car had an approximately 40 kilowatt-hour battery pack, with roughly 4,000 individual cells. He said the performance of the Mercedes E.V. was “equivalent to or slightly faster than the gas versions of the A-Class.”
According to Mr. Straubel, the production version of the E-Cell was nudged into being in part through a gambit on Tesla’s part.
“Daimler is a careful company, and they’re always skeptical that a program can be delivered in time,” he said. “It was hard to get them on board the A-Class project, which we’d been discussing, without a proof of concept. So we went ahead and pushed the envelope to retire a lot of the risk.”
What that meant, he said, was buying an A-Class in Europe last year, bringing it to the United States and working on a prototype, essentially on spec. The conversion, he said, began in mid-September and finished in a matter of four or five weeks.
In early November, when some Daimler executives visited the company in California for other business, Mr. Straubel said they were shown the car and given a chance to drive it from San Carlos to Palo Alto.
“They were blown away,” he said. “They saw that it wasn’t a science program. For them, touching and seeing was believing. The whole thing changed after that, and we moved to a real development program.”
Ms. Emeera said, however, that the company had considerable E.V. experience before hooking up with Tesla in May of last year. It produced the first version of the electric drive Smart that was tested in a 2007 London-based program without Tesla’s input and also developed a much earlier electric prototype of the A-Class.
Tesla gave me a brief ride in the E-Cell prototype in California, and the car did indeed both handle and accelerate very well. Squeaks and rattles were at a minimum, and it felt like a production-ready car. Mr. Straubel says that integrating the battery pack into the A-Class design gives it a lower center of gravity, which aids in the tall car’s cornering ability.
According to Ms. Emeera, markets for the E-Cell had not yet been determined, but Mr. Straubel said it was unlikely the car would be sold in the United States.
Ms. Emeera said that the car would not be sold in showrooms, but instead be marketed directly to customers and fleet buyers who had expressed interest in electric cars from Daimler.
“We have customers who love the Smart electric drive and also customers who have children and need a back seat,” she said.