Long before the Vision Van concept was revealed, the LE 306 previewed electric future.

Everybody is talking about the good old days. The days when electric-gasoline hybrids didn’t exist and electric motors were only used to power the wipers and windows. But even then, Mercedes-Benz, one of the technological leaders of today’s electric revolution, was setting the standards for electric mobility of the future.

Forty-five years ago, in March 1972, at the Electric Vehicle Study Days symposium of the International Union of Producers and Distributors of Electrical Energy, the German company revealed its LE 306 electric van. A couple of months later, under the "Mercedes-Benz – eco-friendly thanks to electric drive" slogan, several prototypes of the vehicle were used during the 1972 Olympic Games.

1972 Mercedes-Benz LE 306


Based on the standard ICE-powered L 206/207 van and developed in cooperation with Kiepe and battery-supplier Varta, the LE 306 featured an externally excited DC shunt motor with 35 to 56-kilowatt (47-75 horsepower) output. A 144-volt, 1,895-pound (860-kilogram), 22-kilowatt-hour battery provided the electric energy, allowing the van to carry up to 2,204 lbs (1,000 kg) and to be driven between 31 and 62 miles (50 and 100 kilometres) at speeds of up to 50 miles per hour (80 kilometres per hour). Just like modern electric and hybrid vehicles, the LE 306 regenerated energy during braking and stored it in the battery for later use.

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Mercedes admits the battery used in the experimental electric van was still closely related to the electric storage devices that had been used in electric vehicles at the start of the 20th century. That’s why a report from the Lastauto Omnibus magazine, which inspected the prototypes in Brussels, concluded that “the success of the electric powertrain will hinge on the development of new energy storage units.”

In the 1980's, the German manufacturer developed two spiritual successors of the LE 306 – in 1980, the 307 E postal van with a range of 70 km was revealed, followed by the 308 E municipal vehicle from 1988. During the next decade, Mercedes also launched electric versions of the Sprinter and Vito with range of up to 93 miles (150 km). The company's most recent electric van development was the Vision Van, revealed last year.

Source: Mercedes-Benz

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