Innovation driving Mercedes-Benz
Carl Benz, one of the two founders of Mercedes-Benz, said “the love of inventing never dies”. That ethos has helped drive the company since 1886 when Benz was awarded German patent number 37435 for a three-wheeled, selfpropelled “Motorwagen”.
Automotive Industries (AI) asked Prof Dr. Thomas Weber, Member of the Board of Management, Group Research & Mercedes-Benz Cars Development, what he sees as the major automotive challenges for the company today.
Weber: First of all, we always view challenges as opportunities. And our current biggest opportunity is the roll out of our new compact class family starting with the B, A and now with the CLA-class, soon followed by our new GLA. This product offensive - introducing 13 new models worldwide by 2020 – shows how we are attacking the market across our whole portfolio. With the new E-class with its new power trains such as hybrids and 119gr CO2 conventional engines and not least the all new S-class - that we will also offer as a plugin hybrid next year - we believe we can maintain the appeal of Mercedes-Benz and go a big step ahead on the way to “Green and Safety Leadership”.
AI: What is the new E-class offering in terms of safety and design?
Weber: We are raising the benchmark once again – in terms of safety, drive technology and design. The front-end is completely redesigned, with new headlamps featuring a single lens covering all functional elements. The E-Class Saloon and Estate are also available for the first time with two different faces – featuring the classic star on the bonnet or the sports car radiator grille with centrally positioned star. New technologies include powerful and efficient BlueDIRECT four-cylinder engines with pioneering injection technology, and trailblazing assistance systems as part of “Mercedes-Benz Intelligent Drive”.
AI: How do you transfer the success of the CLS to the new compact executive CLA class?
Weber: We created the segment of the four-door coupe with the first CLS. Our competitors are now following in this direction, as we have already launched the second generation of the CLS. The CLA interprets this emotional concept for the midsized segment and it will give us additional growth opportunities in Europe, and even more so in the US. Our American customers are very happy that such a vehicle will be available for under $30,000. The technical concept, its emotional design combined with its functionality, performance and price form a unique offer that the customers are looking for.
AI: What is Daimler’s role in driving new vehicle technology and safety standards?
Weber: Our three main strategies are going green - zero emission, going safe, and going autonomous. Going green - 50% of our budget is focused on this kind of technology, not only on powertrain and transmission but also aerodynamics. With the CLA we set a new world record in aerodynamics for series production automobiles (Cd value: 0.22). Let’s not forget the A 45 AMG 265 kW (360 hp) which is a benchmark in efficiency and performance. I think we are well prepared for the future with going green, as well as going safe, and the “Intelligent Drive” package which is a precursor to going autonomous.
AI: What is the potential of the new “Intelligent Drive” safety systems?
Weber: Whereas before assistance systems could be clearly classified under the categories of comfort or safety, the boundaries are more fluid today. For us, “Intelligent Drive” is the combination of comfort and safety by intelligent interlinking of sensors and systems to create a new dimension of motoring. A decade ago, technologies that are taken for granted today were regarded by many as just wishful thinking. For that reason, I am certain that we will keep getting closer and closer to the notion of autonomous driving. By no means do we wish to take over control from the driver, however. Instead, the aim is to relieve motorists when driving is more of a burden than a pleasure – on the monotonous daily commute, for example, or in stop-and-go traffic. From a purely technical standpoint, that’s already possible now to a certain extent. The new S-Class is equipped with systems to do the same in complex traffic situations as well. In this way, comfort and safety systems merge together into a new dimension of motoring, opening up brand new prospects. The intelligent assistance systems of the future will be able to analyze increasingly complex situations and recognize potential dangers with the aid of improved environment sensor systems even more accurately than at present. Amalgamating the algorithms that extract their data from the further improved radar sensors and the new stereo camera is also crucial for the new functions. We call this “sensor fusion”. The new Brake Assist system BAS PLUS with Cross-Traffic Assist, for instance, is now also able to detect cross traffic and pedestrians for the first time. And PRE-SAFE® PLUS can trigger precautionary measures when there is a risk of a collision from the rear. Figuratively speaking, the next S-Class won’t just have eyes at the front; it will have 360-degree all-round vision.
AI: What is Daimler’s electric vehicle strategy?
Weber: As we are not expecting one single technology as a silver bullet for sustainable mobility, we are setting out to provide tailor-made solutions to suit all customer requirements and are going in different directions not only pure electric, but also plug-ins and fuel cell next to hybrids and highly efficient internal combustion engines. Our electric vehicles have high efficiency and lower levels of noise pollution than conventionally powered vehicles while offering the same amount of safety and spaciousness – and providing no end of driving pleasure. With currently nine vehicle models, our range of locally emission-free vehicles is unique in the automotive industry. I think our smart fortwo electric drive, for example, will be most successful in urban areas. The B-class comes next as an all- electric vehicle of Mercedes-Benz. And with the SLS Electric Drive we proof how fascinating electric mobility can be. Long-term, I’m convinced that the hydrogen fuel cell is the only technology that will enable emission-free driving long distances.
AI: In 2012 you launched Mercedes-Benz eCall. How do you incorporate eCall technology in the latest version of COMAND Online multimedia system?
Weber: We launched eCall three years ahead of the planned obligatory date set by the European Commission. The Mercedes- Benz emergency call system is standard in the latest version of the COMAND Online multimedia system. Except for possible mobile phone charges, the Mercedes-Benz emergency call service is completely free to Mercedes-Benz customers. The service is now available in 19 European countries.
AI: What is your approach to innovation?
Weber: We are always innovating, and I will do everything possible to keep it this way. But it is not our approach to invent everything in-house. With our partners from the scientific community, institutes, and of course strong suppliers, from conventional suppliers to, for example, Google, we always intend to look outside the box. Moreover, we have a global research network with hubs around the world in China, USA, India and, of course, Germany.
AI: What are your expectations for the new alliance with Ford and Nissan?
Weber: I consider this a very important milestone for the fuel cell technology. With it we can bundle volume. We can reduce development cost and divide them between the three parties. We have the chance to launch the world’s first affordable, mass-market fuel cell electric vehicles as early as 2017. This collaboration will help define global specifications and component standards. It will also send a clear message to suppliers and the industry to encourage the further development of hydrogen infrastructure worldwide.