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The Vision EQXX concept.Handout

Mercedes-Benz is firing a shot across the bow of Tesla and other EV rivals with the virtual unveiling of the Vision EQXX concept. It is a compact car that can, according to the company, travel more than 1,000 kilometres on a single charge.

Most electric vehicles typically have a driving range of 300-500 kilometres. While some are capable of 600 kilometres, no mass-market EV on the road today has broken the 1,000-kilometre barrier.

Mercedes, however, claims its compact four-seat EQXX concept car can go the distance. It could, in theory, take you from Toronto to New York City, or from Vancouver to Banff without needing to be recharged. Rather than simply fitting the EQXX with a huge, heavy, expensive battery, Mercedes focused on efficiency to increase range and reduce costs.

Crucially, this isn’t just some pie-in-the-sky concept car. The key technologies developed for the EQXX that enable such extreme driving range – a new battery, electric motor and a slippery aerodynamic design – will find their way into roadgoing Mercedes EVs beginning in 2024, according to Markus Schäfer, chief technology officer at Daimler AG, who oversees the development process of new Mercedes-Benz vehicles.

“What you can expect is much more range for a more-or-less similar price level,” Schäfer said, speaking about Mercedes’ next-generation EVs, arriving in 2024 and 2025.

Mercedes claims its compact four-seat EQXX concept car can travel 1,000 kilometres on a single charge.Handout

Battery-related issues – their high costs, limited driving range, and a lack of recharging infrastructure – are among the main reasons why people aren’t choosing EVs, according to Canadian survey by KPMG published last year.

“Battery technology is really at the forefront of all this,” said Peter Hatges, national sector leader for automotive at KPMG in Canada. “Who does [EVs] better? Who’s going to have the longest range? Who’s going to have the faster charging?” Offering cheaper, smaller, more efficient batteries is key.

Tesla was, until recently, the only brand offering true long-range EVs, but other companies are rapidly catching up. The Air sedan from upstart Lucid Motors is rated for 837 kilometres by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Mercedes’ own EQS sedan recently covered 679 kilometres on a single charge in an independent test by Edmunds.

Market share among established automakers is going to shift as some companies offer superior products, Hatges added. So, car companies are racing to improve battery technology in order to grab a bigger slice of the market, or at least to avoid losing an existing slice.

Mercedes didn’t reveal exactly what type of batteries it’s using for the EQXX, but compared to the brand’s flagship EQS electric sedan, the concept car’s battery is half the size and 30-per-cent lighter with almost the same total capacity, roughly 100 kWh. Developed with Mercedes-AMG High Performance Powertrains – which builds the hybrid motors for Mercedes’ Formula 1 racecars – the EQXX’s battery is key to its long-range ability. It uses improved chemistry which increases the energy density of each battery cell by 20 per cent, Schäfer said. The cells are then packaged together more efficiently into an air-cooled battery pack.

Later this year, a prototype road-legal version of the EQXX will try to prove it can indeed cover more than 1,000 kilometres in real-world driving.Handout

In fossil-fuel terms, the company claims the EQXX uses the equivalent of just one litre of gas per 100 kilometres, or less than 10 kWh of electricity per 100 kilometres. For reference, the highly-efficient Tesla Model 3 Long Range is rated at 16 kWh per 100 km in Europe.

Later this year, a prototype road-legal version of the EQXX will try to prove it can indeed cover more than 1,000 kilometres in real-world driving.

Other features from the concept will end up in future production cars as well. Roof-mounted solar panels that provide extra range, active aerodynamics parts to help cut through the air, and a 900-volt charging system that can add 300 kilometres of range in just 15 minutes could all be part of future production cars, Schäfer explained in an interview.

“All the elements that we see in this car will make it into series production,” he said. But, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be able to buy a 1,000-kilometre compact four-seat electric sedan from Mercedes in the near future.

“Probably we don’t need all this range in a compact car,” Schäfer said. This latest battery and motor technology is a toolbox. “The toolbox efficiently can deliver 1,000 kilometres in real range, but if we don’t need it, we can scale it down, scale down the battery,” he said. In theory, that could lower costs for consumers, and for Mercedes.

Hydrogen fuel cells are another promising technology for long-range vehicles. But, hydrogen fuelling stations are even fewer and farther apart than EV chargers.

Whether or not there is demand for ultra-long-range 1,000-kilometre EVs largely depends on charging infrastructure, Schäfer said. Driving range won’t be such a major concern once fast-chargers are readily available across the country, but Canada is still a long way from that.

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