Next Monday, Mercedes-Benz will officially launch the ML450 Hybrid, the first European marque full Hybrid vehicle to be offered in the U.S.
It is based on the technology developed by General Motors for its dual-mode Hybrid models, which the company subsequently licensed to BMW, Chrysler and Mercedes, all of whom were and are desperately behind in the Hybrid technology race long dominated by Toyota and Lexus.
The Alabama-built ML450 Hybrid joins the S400 Hybrid, which cannot run on electricity alone, and existing “BlueTec” diesel models in its growing portfolio of, relatively, fuel-efficient vehicles.
Mercedes plans to sell the ML and subsequent Hybrid-powered SUVs only in the U.S., global marketing chief Klaus Meier told TDB. The technology is meant to supplement, rather than replace Mercedes’ diesel offerings, which currently account for about 20% of its SUV sales, in the U.S.
ML450 Hybrid will be offered as part of a special lease only option (no purchase allowed!) for a lease price of $659 per month for 36 months and $549 per month for 60 months. A down payment of $5,200 or $5,000, respectively, is required.
A Mercedes spokesperson told us that it is too early to say what will happen to the vehicles at the end of the lease period, and whether they or later production models will ultimately be available for sale.
Readers may recall the huge controversy around Saturn’s lease only EV1 electric cars at GM, which to the outrage of happy owners were taken back and shredded at the end of their leases, in spite of pleas from the owners to buy them.
Whether this is lawyer-generated problem at Mercedes, as it was at GM, or Daimler’s doubts about the life and performance of the ML’s nickel metal hydride batteries, or an attempt to limit the volume of what most assuredly is a large loss-making vehicle, among other possibilities that I haven’t thought of, I’ll leave as open questions.
Mercedes is marketing the ML Hybrid as having V8-like power with four-cylinder fuel economy. Although, Mercedes provided data show that at 7.8 seconds zero-to-60 mph acceleration time, the Hybrid is a full 2.2 seconds slower than the V8. And at 5,000 pounds rated towing capacity, it has 2,200 pounds less capability. I have not driven the SUV but look forward to doing so.