25 years ago: Premiere of the Mercedes-Benz Vito 108 E

25 years ago: Premiere of the Mercedes-Benz Vito 108 E

Jul 6, 2021
Stuttgart
  • Compact and agile vehicle for distribution and passenger services
  • Water-cooled three-phase asynchronous motor and ZEBRA battery
  • Built in a small-scale series at the Mannheim plant

Stuttgart. Driving with zero local emissions, e.g. in inner cities: battery-electric vehicles make it happen. 25 years ago the Mercedes-Benz Vito 108 E on the basis of the W 638 model series was created for exactly this purpose. The company introduced the electrified variant of the Vito in July 1996, only a few months after the world premiere of the van model series with a combustion engine that was available at the time.

An information bulletin described potential applications, explaining that “as a small, compact and agile vehicle that fits in any garage without problems, the electrically powered Vito is particularly suitable for distribution and passenger services in inner cities”. The Vito 108 E provides space for up to eight people. Its payload totals 600 kilograms. Its performance benchmarks: a maximum speed of 120 km/h and a range of up to 170 kilometres.

The vehicle is driven by a water-cooled three-phase asynchronous motor generating 40 kW (54 hp). From a standstill and up to 2,000 rpm, it generates a torque of 190 newton metres. The output is transferred by a mechanical, manual transmission unit featuring five forward gears and one reverse gear. A ZEBRA (Zero Emission Battery Research Activities) battery is fitted in the rear behind the seat bench to serve as the energy storage unit.

Such a battery had already been employed two years prior in an experimental vehicle on the basis of the Mercedes-Benz C-Class (202 model series). The energy storage unit on a sodium nickel chloride basis generated a nominal voltage of 280 volts and boasted a capacity of 35.6 kWh. The integrated charger made it possible to charge the battery half full within 30 minutes as part of a quick-charging process. While on the move, the drive motor also charged the energy storage unit as part of recuperation, e.g. while braking. The battery weighed 420 kilograms.

The innovative van was produced at the “Competence Centre for Emission-free Mobility” (KEM), located at the Mannheim plant. The press release for the Vito 108 E explained that “as a result of the small-scale series production for vehicle electrification and the production of the new ZEBRA battery, the overall price is currently estimated to be around three times that of the conventional Vito with combustion engine”. KEM installs alternative drive systems in trucks and vans. Within the context of electric vehicles most enquiries come from companies that rely on zero-emissions mobility for business reasons. For instance, Deutsche Post AG, one of Germanyʼs postal services, used the Vito 108 E for everyday operations: from 1999 the company deployed five vans in Bremen and at Expo 2000 to deliver post. The next model series of the Vito (W 639) was also available with a battery-electric drive system.

And today? Developments have made significant progress. As a result, Mercedes-Benz Vans offers four powerful, battery-electric series-production vehicles: the EQV (EQV 300: electrical consumption in kWh/100 km (combined): 26.4-26.3; CO2 emissions in g/km (combined): 0), eVito Tourer (electrical consumption in kWh/100 km (combined): 26.2; CO2 emissions in g/km (combined): 0), eVito Panel Van (electrical consumption in kWh/100 km (combined): 24.9-20.5; CO2 emissions in g/km (combined): 0) and the eSprinter (electrical consumption in kWh/100 km (combined): 37.1; CO2 emissions in g/km (combined): 0). Various variants of each vehicle are available so that it is possible to configure the matching vehicle for a host of applications. Always part of the package: zero local emissions.

These vehicles even have the potential to become classics. Readers of the “Motor Klassik” specialist magazine voted in favour of the Mercedes-Benz EQV, crowning it the winner of the “Motor Klassik Award” in the “Future Classics” category. The combination of ample feel-good space like in one of the brand’s MPVs with a far-reaching electric mobility concept convinced them.

Mercedes-Benz Vito 108 E (W 638 model series). The vehicle was presented to the public in July 1996 and built in a small-scale series at the Mannheim plant. (Photo signature in the Mercedes-Benz archive: A96F4060)
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Mercedes-Benz Vito 108 E (W 638 model series). The vehicle was presented to the public in July 1996 and built in a small-scale series at the Mannheim plant. Front page of an information bulletin.
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ZEBRA (Zero Emission Battery Research Activities) battery in a 1993 Mercedes-Benz C-Class (W 202) experimental vehicle. (Photo signature in the Mercedes-Benz archive: A95F1343)
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Mercedes-Benz Vito E-CELL on the basis of the W 639 model series. Photograph from 2012. (Photo signature in the Mercedes-Benz archive: 12C1170_020)
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Mercedes-Benz EQV (EQV 300: electrical consumption in kWh/100 km (combined): 26.4-26.3; CO2 emissions in g/km (combined): 0), eSprinter (electrical consumption in kWh/100 km (combined): 37.1; CO2 emissions in g/km (combined): 0) and eVito Panel Van (electrical consumption in kWh/100 km (combined): 24.9-20.5; CO2 emissions in g/km (combined): 0). Vehicles from left to right. Photograph from 2021. (Photo signature in the Mercedes-Benz archive: 21C0112_001)
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