Mercedes-Benz is putting an unprecedented focus on electric mobility. The Stuttgart-based company’s EVs will be sold under a new, dedicated sub-brand named EQ. Hybrid models will continue to be a part of the Mercedes lineup in the foreseeable future, and even AMG has admitted a gasoline-electric hot rod isn’t as far-fetched as it might sound. In fact, we’re likely to see one before the end of the year.
The idea of going electric is far from new at Mercedes. From 1909 to 1912, Austria-based Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft built a battery-powered model named Mércèdes Électrique fitted with in-wheel electric motors. Gasoline- and diesel-powered models took up the bulk of the company’s budget in the subsequent decades, but electric cars nonetheless remained in the background.
Mercedes-Benz unveiled an experimental, battery-powered van named LE 306 on March 13, 1972 in Brussels, Belgium. We’ll let the company’s archives department tell its story.
“The LE 306 was unveiled to experts during the “Electric Vehicle Study Days” symposium of the International Union of Producers and Distributors of Electrical Energy. In the summer of 1972, the LE 306 then came to the attention of the world public at the 1972 Olympic Games, at which a fleet of the experimental vehicles was in use. A short while later, there was even a large-scale trial with a total of 58 vehicles. This involved cooperation between Mercedes-Benz and the Society for Electric Road Traffic (GES), which was founded in the early 1970s by Rheinisch-Westfälisches Elektrizitätswerk AG in Essen, Germany.
The companies Kiepe (electronic controller) and Varta (battery) were industrial partners in the development of the LE 306. The base vehicle for the LE 306 was the standard-production van available from the Stuttgart-based brand with either a petrol engine (L 207 and L 307, 70 horsepower) or a diesel engine (L 206 D and L 306 D, 60 horsepower). Following the takeover of Hanomag-Henschel by the then Daimler-Benz AG, Mercedes-Benz added this light van to its own model range. Its successor was the entirely in-house developed T 1 or TN van, which was unveiled in 1977 and was also known under the name “Bremen van”.
The LE 306 was powered by a DC shunt motor with an output that ranged between 35 to 56 kilowatts. This, in turn, drew its energy from a battery weighing 860 kilograms (about 1,900 pounds) with a voltage of 144V and a capacity of 22 kilowatt-hours. This was enough to allow the van to be driven between 50 and 100 kilometers (about 30 and 60 miles) at speeds of up to 80 km/h (50 mph).
To extend the range to a practical area of use, engineers devised an exchange system for the energy storage unit: the “slide-through horizontal exchange technique” made it possible for the battery to be replaced in just a few minutes.
“At the charging station, the discharged battery is pulled out from the side, while a new one is simultaneously slid in from the other side. It all takes no longer than a normal fuel stop,” stated a 1974 Mercedes-Benz brochure on the LE 306.
During breaks in operation, the battery could also be charged with mains power while still in the vehicle. In addition, the motor acted as a generator during braking, the kinetic energy being converted to electric energy, which was then stored in the battery. The same efficient principle of energy recovery is used in present-day hybrid and electric vehicles.”