While 2009 was a tumultuous year for automakers, the worldwide economic crisis pushed the auto industry into the mainstream automotive media’s spotlight, making big automotive news stories even bigger. And while new products continued to be introduced, they garnered possibly even more attention that ever before. With that in mind, we thought we’d take a look back at some of the Top 10 biggest stories of 2009 for an automaker that didn’t recoil, but continued on, unveiling an all-new version of one of its most important models, delivering a new exotic car to market, promising an electric car in the future… and making some big changes in its motorsports program. That automaker is Mercedes-Benz.
#10 Mercedes Goes Green With New Hybrids
Slow to adapt hybrid technology, German automakers began to take on the Japanese luxury hybrids in 2009. Mercedes launched two important hybrid models, the S400 Hybrid and the ML450 Hybrid. The S400 Hybrid was the first Mercedes hybrid to go on sale and is also the first mass production automobile to use a lithium-ion battery. Priced at $87,950 it uses an electric motor and 3.5-liter gasoline V6 to produce 295-hp, while getting mileage of 19/26 mpg – an improvement of 26 percent over the S550 in the city. Despite its high-tech battery pack, the S400 Hybrid is a mild-hybrid, which limits its fuel economy.
The second hybrid model from Mercedes is the ML450 Hybrid 4MATIC. A lease-only model, for either 36 or 60 months, at either $659 or $549 per month, the ML450 is the first two-mode hybrid (like the Toyota Prius) from Mercedes. The ML450 uses a 3.5-liter V6 engine and two electric motors to make 335-hp and 381 ft-lbs of torque. Unlike the S400 Hybrid, it will be able to operate exclusively on electric power for short periods of time. Its fuel economy is rated at 21/24 mpg (city/highway), which is roughly the same as the ML350 Bluetec diesel at 18/25 mpg. This is also a 46 percent improvement over the fuel economy rating of the similarly-powerful ML550.
The next step for Mercedes in the field of hybrids comes with the Vision S500 Plug-In Hybrid, which debuted at the Frankfurt Auto Show and foreshadows a plug-in hybrid version of the next generation S-Class. Thanks to a direct-injection 3.5-liter V6 engine mated to a 60-hp/184 ft-lb electric motor and a lithium-ion battery pack, the car is capable of getting an amazing 73.5 mpg! Possibly more shocking is that the car doesn’t sacrifice performance, with a 0-60 mph time of 5.4 seconds. Additionally, the electric motor will be able to power the car emissions-free for 18 miles.
#9 Electric Car Concepts, Electric Investments and Promises of an Electric Supercar
In terms of electric cars, Mercedes was busy in 2009, right from the start. At a private event held the night before the Detroit Auto Show in January, the automaker displayed the first of three alternative energy concept cars. The fully-electric BlueZero E-Cell, with a fully electric range of 120 miles, paved the way for the E-Cell Plus, which debuted later in the year at the Frankfurt Auto Show. Using technology similar to the Chevy Volt, the E-Cell Plus is a form of plug-in hybrid where the gasoline engine powers the battery, which moves the car. It can travel up to 62 miles on electric power alone, with a full range of 373 miles. The engine is a turbocharged 1.0-liter 3-cylinder powerplant producing 67-hp. The electric motor which actually powers the car makes 134hp and 236 ft-lbs of torque, enabling the plug-in hybrid to hit 62 mph in 11 seconds.
A third version, called the The F-Cell, is powered by fuel cell with a hydrogen gas tank. It has a range of 248 miles and produces water vapor as a by-product.
Underpinned by Mercedes’ B-Class architecture, these concepts, especially with their similar names, wound up being ignored by many, but are likely to play a huge part in the future of Mercedes as an automaker. Two other big electric car developments will also play into this.
Party way through the year Mercedes parent company Daimler announced it had purchased a 10 percent stake in American electric car maker Tesla. The full result of the partnership has yet to be realized, but Tesla’s advancements in battery technology are sure to find their way into future Smart and Mercedes small car and city car models.
Finally, what was easily the biggest electric car story to come out of Mercedes in 2009 was news that the automaker would bring to market an electric supercar based on the newly unveiled SLS. Called the SLS eDrive, this green version of the SLS will make use of lithium-ion battery packs, powering an electric motor that will make 392 kW (or 526-hp) and 649 ft-lbs of torque. The SLS eDrive will offer serious performance with a 0-60 mph time of under four seconds and a top speed of 120 mph – all with zero emissions. Range is expected to be between 93 and 112 miles.
The SLS eDrive is still a long way off from production, especially as the standard gasoline-powered SLS won’t make it to market until late 2010 as a 2011 model. It is tentatively scheduled as a 2015 model.
#8 McLaren SLR 722 GT Competes in SPEED World Challenge Series
Sadly the news that an incredible SLR 722 GT would compete in the SPEED World Challenge GT series didn’t make many headlines, but it does make our Top 10 list. Never intended to run in the World Challenge series, the ultra-raw SLR had to be homolgated to meet the series standards and was then restricted severely in order to dilute its performance potential. In its untouched form the car makes 680-hp and 612 ft-lbs of torque and weights just 3,200 lbs, meaning it can accelerate to 60 mph in just 3.3 seconds. Thanks to some serious aerodynamics and a significantly lowered ride height, the 722 GT is also capable of hitting 2 Gs in the corners.
Had this been a official Mercedes effort and not side project for the team at The Racers Group, we would surely have heard a lot more about this amazing car in 2009. Sadly we didn’t and with the car only making it out to a select few races, it didn’t prove competitive and never landed on the podium.
#7 New Small Premium Model Destined for U.S.
Like many luxury automakers, Mercedes was hit hard in 2009 and so it announced a plan to diversify its product offerings and introduce a new small car to the U.S. in 2012. The car would compete with vehicles like the BMW 1 Series, Audi A3, Volvo C30 and MINI Cooper – as well as a possible compact luxury vehicle from Lexus based on the LF-Ch concept.
Analysts have suggested the move is the result of lessons learned from the recent economic downturn, with sales of larger luxury vehicles and SUVs taking a significant hit, while the share of the market made up by compact and subcompact vehicles has grown. The introduction of a smaller and more fuel efficient model in the Mercedes lineup in the U.S. would also help the manufacturer meet increasingly strict CAFE regulations.
In the past Mercedes had decided to introduce the B-Class to the U.S. market but canceled plans when an unfavorable Euro-to-dollar exchange rate made the car’s business plan unsound. (The B-Class was, however, introduced in Canada, where vehicles are sold for significantly more).
The new Mercedes small car will be based on an all new platform that Mercedes says is much cheaper to manufacture, making the Euro-to-dollar exchange rate less of a factor. It is not yet known if the car will follow in the B-Class’s layout of being a premium-people mover or if Mercedes will opt to build a more sporty offering to better compete with cars like the 1 Series or MINI Cooper.
Over the past two years, Mercedes has introduced three concepts based on the B-Class architecture, including a hydrogen fuel-cell concept, a hybrid concept and an electric car concept. It’s likely that the future Mercedes small car platform will bring one of more of these concept car technologies into production.
#6 AMG 6.2-Liter V8 Wins Best Performance Engine Award
2009 proved a rewarding year for engineers at Mercedes’ high performance AMG division, with the 6.2-liter V8 found in everything from the C63 to the SLS supercar taking home the Best Performance Engine award at the International Engine of the Year Awards.
An incredible naturally-aspirated power plant, the 6.2 is the first ground-up engine built by AMG and makes as much as 563-hp and 479 ft-lbs of torque in the SLS AMG.
The International Engine of the Year Awards celebrate engine technology, giving honors to engines in 12 specific categories and are chosen by a jury of 65 automotive journalists from 30 countries.
#5 Mercedes Axes Award-Winning 6.2-Liter V8
It came as a shock when Mercedes announced it would eliminate AMG’s 6.2-liter V8 engine from the company’s lineup, particularly after it took home the hardware for the Best Performance Engine in 2009. Starting next year, the high-performance AMG division at Mercedes-Benz will begin to replace all 6.2-liter V8 engines with smaller, twin-turbo units. The replacement motor will be a twin-turbo 5.5-liter V8 that is expected to make just as much (if not more) power, but reduce fuel consumption significantly. This move follows in the footsteps of other automakers to move away from naturally aspirated motors, to forced induction ones. Interestingly, the 6.2-liter V8, the first ground-up engine built by AMG, only recently joined the company’s lineup after it ended a long run with the supercharged 5.5-liter V8.
#4 Mercedes Announces End of Partnership with McLaren With Debut of SLR Stirling Moss
More a piece of art than a high performance car, the SLR Stirling Moss is the final special edition version of the SLR and marks the end of a production car partnership between McLaren and Mercedes. Designed to celebrate Moss’s many Mille Miglia victories during the 1950s, the SLR Stirling Moss has a distinctively retro look, while under the hood there’s a supercharged V8 pumping out 650-hp.
The SLR Stirling Moss edition will also be priced like a piece of fine art at 750,00 Euros ($1.5 million). Only 75 units will be made.
#3 Mercedes Debuts New Retro-Styled SLS AMG Supercar
With more than just inspiration from the classic 300SL Gullwing, Mercedes introduced its latest supercar in 2009. Called the SLS AMG, it is the first ground-up vehicle build by AMG and uses the performance brand’s first from-scratch engine, the 6.2-liter V8 found in the rest of the AMG 63 lineup. With reworked internals the V8 makes an amazing 563-hp and 479 ft-lbs of torque – enough to propel the supercar all the way to 62 mph in 3.8 seconds and on to a top speed of 196 mph.
The engine uses a dry-sump lubrication system (great for serious abuse), as well as a transaxle and a double-clutch seven speed transmission. That transaxle layout means that the tranny is located out back (for an ideal weight balance of 48/52) and it attached to the engine by a carbon fiber driveshaft.
The projected curb weight is just 3,571 lbs, due mostly to the fact that this is the first model Mercedes has ever produced with an all aluminum chassis and body.
Weight is also saved by using carbon ceramic brakes and light weight wheels, that measure 19×9.5-inches up front and 20×11-inches in the rear.
Along with news of an electric version of the SLS due out in 2015, the car again made headlines in 2009 when Mercedes debuted a special AMG Desert Gold paint scheme at the Dubai Auto Show.
#2 Michael Schumacher Returns to Formula 1, in a Mercedes
Arguably the number one Mercedes news story for 2009 came only recently when it was announced that Michael Schumacher would come out of retirement to race in the 2010 Formula One season, in a Mercedes-Benz.
The chips began to fall into place earlier in the year when Mercedes broke off its partnership with McLaren and purchased the Brawn GP team, which won the championship the year before using Mercedes engines. Mercedes kept on team principal Ross Brawn, leading to the speculation that Schumacher might sign on.
After all, Brawn was in charge of the Ferrari team when Schumacher won his five World Championships there, and wa also in charge of the Benetton team when Schumacher took home his other two World Championships.
“It is a new chapter in my racing career and I am really looking forward to working with my old friend Ross Brawn and my companions from my days with the Mercedes Junior Programme,” said Schumacher in an interview. “I am convinced that together we will be involved in the fight for the Formula One World Championship next year and I am already looking forward to getting back onto the race track. For me, this partnership closes the circle. Mercedes supported me for so many years when I began my Formula One career and now I can hopefully give something back to the brand with the star.”
Schumacher, age 41, returns to the sport after a planned comeback last year failed. He had intended to race in place of injured teammate Filipe Massa, but injuries sustained during a motorcycle accident prevented that from happening. Schumacher now says he is fully recovered.
When asked about Schumacher’s accomplishments, Norbert Haug, Vice-President of Mercedes-Benz Motorsports said that, “Michael has more of everything than every other driver.”
#1 Mercedes Launches 2010 E-Class, in All its Many Forms
While it might not be nearly as sexy a story as Michael Schumacher’s return to motorsports, but for Mercedes as a company that relies on car sales, the launch of the 2010 E-Class is a very big deal. A volume model for the brand, but also a near-flagship luxury sedan, the 2010 E-Class marks the first complete overall of the model since 2002.
Previewed to select media on the eve of the Detroit Auto Show, the car certainly has a bold and edgy design, with gobs of safety features. The interior of the new E-Class is absolutely stunning. What isn’t new for 2010 are the engines, with two carryover powerplants for North American in 2010. These include a 268-hp 3.5-liter V6 in the E350 and a 382-hp 5.5-liter V8 in the E550. In Europe and other markets, the E-Class is offered with 4-cylinder and diesel engines, as well as direct-injection gasoline engines.
New technology highlights include Agility Control adaptive shock absorbers and Attention Assist drowsiness detection. High beam assist, which adjusts the vehicle’s headlights based on the distance to a vehicle ahead or one in the oncoming lane, is also standard.
With the car’s official introduction at the Geneva Auto Show, it had to share the stage with the 2010 E-Class Coupe. Using the same engines, the E-Class Coupe replaces the CLK in Merc’s lineup. Standard equipment includes a leather interior with sport seats, a Panorama Sunroof, Mercedes’s Command System and automatic dual-zone climate control. Impressively, this car is actually the most aerodynamic shape of any production vehicle with a coefficient of drag of just 0.24.
Just a few weeks after the coupe debuted, Mercedes announced the high-powered E63 AMG at the New York Auto Show. With an aggressive stance, the E63 delivers with a 6.2-liter V8 making 518-hp and 465 ft-lbs of torque, enabling a sprint to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds.
Later in the Fall, Mercedes took the wraps off the E-Class Wagon (or Estate) and ended the year by announcing the E-Class Cabriolet will debut at the 2010 Detroit Auto Show, capping-off the year of the E-Class.
See our 2010 E-Class Reviews, as well as more reviews of 2010 Mercedes-Benz models below, or click here for full specifications on the entire 2010 Mercedes-Benz lineup.