The Battery Series: Mercedes-Benz's global battery network is ready
Mercedes-Benz has had an excellent 2023 so far. Car sales almost doubled in Q2 2023, to more than 515,000. That's a 6% increase year-on-year. EV sales were up 51% year on year, reaching 91,910 units, or 18.6% of the total. Of these, BEVs represented 51,600 units, a 89% year-on-year increase. Mercedes-Benz Vans also witnessed a sales surge, hitting 119,505 in Q2 (a 19% increase year-on-year), of which 5,100 were all-electric (a 18% increase year-on-year).
These positive figures are the result of years of preparation at Mercedes-Benz to switch to EVs, increase production and reach sustainability. The automaker summarised its road map in three announcements over the last three years, displaying its commitment to and confidence in electrification:
- 2021: Mercedes-Benz revealed its plans for electrification, stating that from 2025 onwards, all newly launched vehicle architectures will be all-electric and that it would offer an all-electric alternative for every model it produces.
- The budget to be spent on electrification from 2022 to 2030 was announced to be €40 billion, including on three electric-only architectures (MB.EA, AMG.EA, VAN.EA), for passenger cars, performance cars and electric light commercial vehicles (eLCVs), respectively.
- 2022: Aiming to become all-electric by 2030, Mercedes-Benz began realigning its global powertrain network to ease the transformation to EVs. In June 2022, the automaker said it was ready to rapidly scale EV volumes, aligning the production network for luxury EVs. €1 billion was set aside for the realignment process, including shaping the battery network, with two plants in Germany (Kamenz and Brühl) and a plant in Beijing, to produce batteries for EQ models based on the MMA and MB.EA platforms.
- 2023: In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Mercedes-Benz CEO Ola Källenius said the automaker wants to bring luxury into the electrical and digital era, saying the total of €45 billion investment is to outpace rivals in this category, including taking back U.S. market share lost to Tesla.
The battery and recycling network
The plan announced in 2021 stated that Mercedes-Benz will need a battery capacity of over 200 gigawatt hours (GWh), and eight Gigafactories will manufacture battery cells in cooperation with global partners. Mercedes-Benz wants to develop highly standardised batteries for almost all EVs the company intends to produce. But the build-up of the worldwide battery network had started long before:
|January 2019||In 2019, the state-of-the-art engine factory in Jawor, Poland, was being built and emerged as a testament to the all-electric future and self-sufficiency in the battery production of Mercedes-Benz. Supplemented by a battery factory, Jawor represents the first site dedicated to engine and battery production for Mercedes-Benz passenger cars.|
|December 2019||First announced in 2018, in cooperation with local partners, Mercedes-Benz invested over €100 million in Thailand to establish a plant in Bangkok to produce plug-in hybrid batteries. The investment also included the expansion of the existing auto plant.|
|September 2021||Mercedes-Benz took an equity stake in European battery cell manufacturer Automotive Cells Company (ACC) to ramp up the development and manufacturing of next-generation batteries, with an investment budget of over €7 billion.|
|March 2021||Production of high-performance batteries for all-electric luxury EQS began in the Stuttgart-Hedelfingen plant, becoming a part of the global battery network.|
|December 2021||Daimler, part of the Mercedes-Benz Group, has added a battery production line to its Beijing plant operated by the joint venture, Beijing Benz, formed with the Chinese BAIC Group. The plant is producing battery packs for Mercedes-Benz EQE for the Chinese market. In June 2021, Reuters reported that the factory will increase shifts to boost nominal production capacity by 45%.|
|March 2022||A new battery plant in Bibb County, Alabama is now part of the global battery production network, making Alabama an export hub for Mercedes-Benz's luxury eSUVs. As of 2022, the global battery network of Mercedes-Benz established itself in three continents: the Americas, Europe, and Asia.|
The new EQS SUV during testing in Nevada. Image: Mercedes-Benz.
|August 2022||Mercedes-Benz expanded its battery supply partnership with Chinese giant CATL (which began in 2020), announcing a new plant in Debrecen, Hungary. The plant will provide battery cells for production sites in Germany and Hungary for the next-generation Mercedes-Benz models.|
The EQS battery pack. Image: Mercedes-Benz.
|March 2023||The battery recycling factory in Kuppenheim has started operations, followed by a hydrometallurgy plant, representing an integrated recycling concept within a single factory through mechanical dismantling of EV batteries and recycling. With a recycling rate of over 96%, Mercedes-Benz defines the innovation as a "mine for tomorrow."|
What about resources? Mercedes-Benz needs many minerals to supply the global battery network, primarily lithium. In March 2023, Rock Tech Lithium, a German-Canadian startup, opened its lithium plant in Guden, Brandenburg. The partnership with Rock Tech Lithium will enable Mercedes-Benz to feed its battery plants with high-grade lithium hydroxide.
The magic material: silicon
Mercedes-Benz is focusing on silicon as the magic material and invested in Sila Nanotechnologies in 2019 to develop next-generation batteries with silicon anodes. Launched by a group of ex-Tesla battery engineers, Sila Nanotechnologies has developed Titan Silicon, a new class of nano-composite silicon anode, boosting the energy density of lithium-ion battery cells by 20-40%. This means Mercedes-Benz will increase the range of its cars by storing more energy, freeing up 20% additional space. Additionally, Titan Silicon will enhance battery efficiency, allowing a fast recharge from 10 to 80% in less than 20 minutes. Sila says these advancements don't reduce batteries' life cycle or safety, but decrease the weight by 15%. Titan Silicon's environmental impact is also salient, reducing CO2 output by 50 to 75% in EVs compared to graphite, a primary material in lithium-ion batteries.
Sila will produce the new anode at the Moses Lake facility in Washington State, using 100% renewable energy. Mercedes-Benz is the first known customer of this product. Production will start in mid-2024 and become full-scale in 2025 with a capacity of around 10 GWh, enough for 100,000-500,000 battery packs, according to InsideEVs. According to CNBC, silicon anode has ten times higher energy density than graphite, and Amprius Technologies, developing silicon-anode technology, has demonstrated charging to 80% in less than six minutes.
Image: Sila Nanotechnologies
Mercedes-Benz wants to offer various EV models to a wide range of customers and become the leader in the luxury EV category while also achieving carbon neutrality. Mercedes-Benz follows the 'Ambition 2039' target, having its entire fleet of new vehicles net carbon-neutral along the whole value chain by 2039. To achieve this goal, Mercedes-Benz aims to at least halve CO2 emissions per passenger car over the lifecycle by the end of this decade, compared to 2020 levels. Factory 56, in Sindelfingen, Germany, is a testament to the Ambition 2039, using energy supply from the photovoltaic (PV) system on its roof, powering driverless transport systems instead of the traditional assembly lines, called 'TecLines'. Through a major and diligent development process, the rivalry Mercedes-Benz offers will be thrilling to see.
Check earlier articles in this series:
The Battery Series: How Tesla wants to keep world leadership?
The Battery Series: What does BYD have on the menu?
The Battery Series: Volkswagen to boost performance through dry-coating
The Battery Series: Toyota to master both li-ion and solid-state batteries
The main image shows Factory 56, courtesy of Mercedes-Benz.