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Mercedes-Benz is displaying what it claims to be the first hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) in the world that's also a plug-in hybrid, in the form of the GLC F-Cell, at the Frankfurt Motor Show.
There are FCEVs already on sale with other manufacturers, of course, most notably the Toyota Mirai, but they can't be charged externally in the manner of a plug-in hybrid, which is where the SUV-based GLC F-Cell is so clever.
Accordingly, its stats read something like this: with 4.4kg of hydrogen on board, it can go 437km on fuel; the 13.8kWh gross (9.3kWh net) lithium-ion battery pack can do a further 49km of pure electric driving; CO2 emissions from the tailpipe are 0g/km; and the GLC F-Cell develops 200hp and 350Nm, enough for a 160km/h top speed.
FCEVs are desirable because the hydrogen tanks only take a little longer than petrol or diesel refuelling, making it more viable than sitting idle for half an hour while your EV charges back up. And, compared to the B-Class F-Cell, which has been on sale in Germany since 2010, the GLC's drive system offers 40 per cent more output, its fuel-cell system is 30 per cent more compact than before (and is housed entirely in the engine bay) and the use of platinum in the fuel cell has been reduced by 90 per cent; this last fact conserves precious natural resources and lowers the cost of the system considerably, without compromising the performance according to Mercedes.
The two hydrogen tanks built into the GLC's floor are encased in carbon fibre and store 4.4kg of hydrogen at 700 bar. Replenishing the tanks takes three minutes, although charging the lithium-ion battery pack only takes one-and-a-half hours. Drive from these two energy sources goes to an asynchronous electric motor with 200hp and 350Nm, with three drive modes for the F-Cell's drivetrain and four different ways of managing your resources: Hybrid, F-Cell, Battery and Charge.
Mercedes says the only differences inside between the F-Cell and regular GLC will be a minimal step in the boot and a slightly raised rear bench seat. Outside, the GLC F-Cell wears a few blue highlights and a set of 20-inch aerodynamically-optimised alloy wheels, and the cars shown in Frankfurt are actually pre-production examples of the hydrogen vehicle - which will be sold under Mercedes' EQ electric vehicles brand.
Ola Källenius, member of the board of management of Daimler AG responsible for group research and Mercedes-Benz Cars development, said: "Our many years of experience with fuel-cell technology pay dividends in the new GLC F-Cell: its long electric range, short refuelling times and everyday practicality of an SUV will make it the perfect vehicle. This is made possible by the compact construction of our fuel-cell system. Another genuine world first is the combination with a large additional lithium-ion battery, which can be conveniently charged using plug-in technology."