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Global Economy

E-cars soon with much more range?

The range of electric vehicles, critics say, is manageable – at least for production vehicles. The fear that the battery could go flat on the road keeps some car customers from buying, although the large series vehicles can now manage between 500 and 700 kilometers – depending on driving style.

By the end of the decade, the Swabian carmaker Mercedes-Benz wants to be "fully electric". By 2026, more than 60 billion euros are to be invested in research and development expenditure for the electrification and digitization of vehicles. Volkswagen follows a similar course with 89 billion euros. BMW wants to spend a total of 30 billion by 2025.

Big gap in sales

According to figures from the Center of Automotive Management, sales by German car manufacturers were far behind those of foreign companies: In the past half year, the Californian manufacturer Tesla sold 565,000 vehicles worldwide and the Chinese car manufacturers BYD and SAIC each sold around 330,000 cars. Volkswagen ranks with 217,000 electric cars sold in fourth place. Mercedes-Benz is currently in the five-digit range.

But: "The sales figures of German manufacturers are now increasing," says Stefan Bratzel from the Center of Automotive Management in Bergisch Gladbach. The reason is also the innovative strength of the manufacturers, which has increased. Ultimately, the purchase decision is mainly about the range, and that depends on the technology, i.e. battery strength, air resistance and weight.

As little consumption as possible

The money flows, for example, into the development of new vehicles and drive concepts – for example at Mercedes-Benz. "VISION EQXX" is the name of a new development by the group that is designated as a near-series electric car. From Stuttgart, the vehicle drove around 1,200 kilometers to Silverstone in England – on a single charge. That wasn't planned at all, says test driver and engineer Julien Pillas.

"Our goal with the project was to build an efficient car that can drive more than 1000 kilometers on real roads," says Pillas. The result was a sporty car with a low weight. The average consumption when driving to the British Isles was 8.3 kWh per 100 kilometers – converted into diesel fuel, that would be around 0.8 liters over the same distance.

Easier gets further

At 1800 kilograms, the VISION EQXX weighs little compared to other electric cars from so-called premium manufacturers. This was a declared goal of the developers, because it ultimately leads to more range. The Swabian designers have therefore saved on weight. Wherever it is technically possible and stability is not endangered, material has been left out.

The developers took the blueprints of plants and living beings as a model. "We used nature and copied the way in which nature optimizes growth for the vehicle and let it influence our design," says Malte Sievers, one of the development engineers at Mercedes-Benz. For example, the substructure for the windscreen wipers looks similar to what is known from nature from bone growth or from trees.

It all comes down to aerodynamics

"Air resistance accounts for almost two-thirds of total consumption," says Teddy Woll, who is responsible for the research car's aerodynamics. The so-called drag coefficient has been reduced to a minimum of 0.17. This has never been achieved before in a near-series electric car.

The two wheelhouses at the front are of particular importance. "They make up about a third of the total resistance," says Woll. The more air turbulence avoided, the better.

Solar cells are installed on the roof of the VISION EQXX. In this way, electricity can also be generated while driving – even if that is not quite enough to "fill up". After all, it provides additional energy for more kilometers. "We're generating around 25 kilometers of extra range on an average day," says development engineer Malte Sievers. According to initial plans, the small solar power plant could be installed in series vehicles from 2024.

State of research as a "black box"

"With research vehicles like this one from Mercedes-Benz, the technically feasible is to be explored," says Stefan Reindl from the Geislingen Institute for the Automotive Industry. Mercedes-Benz wants to install many of the new developments in the models of the compact class and also the electric S-Class in the coming years. "How far the other German car manufacturers are or what they are currently researching is more like a black box," said Reindl.

But the dynamic is very high for everyone to further develop the existing technology, especially the batteries. Stefan Reindl's prognosis is that in about five years all German electric car manufacturers will be able to achieve a range of around 700 kilometers on the road

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