First look at Mercedes' modular platform for electric cars

Mercedes-Benz has crafted a dedicated platform for its next-generation electric cars.

Revealed this week during a tech briefing at the automaker’s headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany, the platform will make its way into a handful of models, the first of which will be previewed in concept form at the 2016 Paris Auto Show in late September. The production version isn’t due until later in the decade, most likely only in 2019.

The platform, which Mercedes calls a “multi-model vehicle architecture,” uses a similar layout to the platform of electric car leader Tesla Motors [NSDQ:TSLA]. A flat battery sits in the vehicle floor to maximize interior space while creating a low center of gravity, and this is joined by an electric motor at either axle, enabling all-wheel drive. Such a design also enables various bodystyles, sometimes referred to as top hats, to be accommodated easily. In fact, Mercedes’ platform is expected to spawn at least four models: two sedans and two SUVs.

While it was previously thought the first of these next-generation electric cars would be an SUV about the size of the GLC, we’re now hearing it will be a sporty sedan, possibly related to the next-generation CLS. Fingers crossed it looks something like the stunning Intelligent Aerodynamic Automobile concept unveiled at the 2015 Frankfurt Auto Show.

What we do know is that it will be blisteringly quick, at least in initial acceleration thanks to the strong low-end torque of electric motors. Tesla’s Model S has already demonstrated that electric motors make it possible for a large sedan to out-accelerate even a supercar. One Mercedes exec described the automaker’s new electric cars as being capable of offering performance on par with Mercedes-AMG cars, at least in terms of off-the-line acceleration.

Also mimicking Tesla, Mercedes plans to produce its own batteries. They will be produced by fellow Daimler subsidiary Deutsche Accumotive, which already offers home energy storage in some markets and is currently expanding its factory in preparation for the new electric cars.

Mercedes is going with lithium-ion batteries initially and says customers can expect a driving range of approximately 300 miles on a single charge. The automaker is also investigating next-generation battery solutions, which it refers to as “post-lithium-ion systems,” and says lithium-sulphur looks to be the most promising. Mercedes says lithium-sulphur has the potential to double the energy density of a similar sized lithium-ion battery while halving the cost.

Like all German and American automakers barring Tesla (although it’s investigating it), Mercedes plans to use the Combined Charging System high-voltage DC charging standard. This is expected to offer a 150-kilowatt charging rate soon and even higher rates in the not too distant future.

Mercedes already has plenty of experience when it comes to electric cars. The automaker has been offering them for several years but these have been niche products limited to a handful of markets. The list includes “Electric Drive” versions of the Smart ForTwoB-Class and SLS AMG. With its new electric cars, Mercedes for the first time will be targeting volume sales.