Mercedes E Superlight (2015): Merc’s carbonfibre fuel cell exec

Published: 03 January 2012 Updated: 26 January 2015

Mercedes’ answer to the Audi E-tron and BMW i is the new E Superlight, a revolutionary carbonfibre saloon depicted here in CAR’s artist’s impression.

In size the new Merc E Superlight is close to the CLS, though its price stretches closer to the S-class. In design, it’s said to borrow elements from ho-hum concepts like F800 (C-class-size) and F125 (S-class-size).

We can only hope that the recently prevailing jellyfish-with-rabbit-hind-legs approach will soon give way to a trend-setting architecture that is aerodynamically efficient, functional and versatile, pretty to look at and sufficiently exciting to match the revolutionary content.

So you’re not sure about the latest Mercedes design look?

The three German premium kings share a potentially fatal styling problem. Audi is reducing itself to the size of the singleframe grille and the number of LEDs they can cram into light clusters; BMW is following an inexplicable hit (5-/3-series) and miss (1/7/5series GT/X1) course; and Mercedes is indulging in flamboyantly decorative shapes with questionable proportions and OTT detailing.

Halo cars such as the new E Superlight, however, present an opportunity to break new stylistic ground.

Mercedes E Superlight in detail

The E superlight is a four-door notchback loosely based on the footprint of the next-generation E-class. A saloon may not have the marketing impact of a supercar or the deep green lustre of a subcompact, but the E-class segment is Mercedes heartland which harbours all the core brand values.

According to the Sindelfingen grapevine, E superlight features a state-of-the-art door concept with relatively short rear pantograph panels that swing out and back. Thanks to the stiff and strong carbonfibre structure, there is no need for reinforcing B-posts which should make entry and egress a truly grand experience.

Although the suicide doors draw a certain parallel to project i, Mercedes will go one step further by creating a full carbonfibre architecture which does without an aluminium chassis. This allegedly does not only reduce cost and complexity, it also brings the weight down to a new low level.

Thanks to a clever load-based confectioning scheme, suspension and drivetrain can be fully integrated into the monocoque. The sole initially intended source of propulsion is a 150bhp fuel-cell which drives the rear wheels in sync with a 50bhp electric motor. At a later stage, Mercedes may add a conventional petrol or diesel engine, or a plug-in hybrid application.

When can we expect to see the E Superlight?

Although the timing is still provisional, low-volume production is expected to commence in late 2015. By then, Mercedes will have gained plenty of carbonfibre experience by manufacturing body panels, suspension elements and structural parts from the new material.

By 2017, insiders expect an annual output of close to 20,000 E Superlight units, which is remarkably similar in volume to what the friends from Munich have in mind. The biggest quesion mark seems to concern the feasibility of the fuel cell for which the optimistic product planners have set a best-case scenario of 100,000 MB passenger cars and vans for the same timeframe.

But apart from some unresolved engineeering issues (membrane, valves, connectors), the main markets have also still to establish a hydrogen infrastructure, and so far neither the politicians nor the manufacturers seem to be able to agree on maximum on-board tank pressures and on filling procedure norms.

Having said that, E Superlight can of course also fly without a fuel cell. After all, its main asset is the lightweight structure which is tipped to undercut the current steel-bodied E-class by over 350 kilos. Once the E Superlight has taken off, the carbonfibre technology will also be applied to the SLS replacement, sources say.