“The love of inventing never dies” – from the Benz Patent-Motorwagen to the reinvention of the motor car
It was on 29 January 1886 that Carl Benz filed an application in Berlin for a patent on his three-wheeled motor car. Ever since, that day has been considered the official birthday of the motor car, which, in 2011, celebrates its 125th anniversary. At the same time as Benz, Gottlieb Daimler was developing the first four-wheeled motor car. In this way, working independently of each other, the founding fathers of today’s Daimler AG and its globally successful Mercedes-Benz core brand laid the foun-dation stone for all present-day passenger cars, commercial vehicles and buses. The company that invented the motor car has since that time gone on to shape its development more diversely and endur-ingly than any other motor vehicle manufacturer – in all relevant areas, from drive technology to comfort and safety through to design.
Innovation has always been the key to success for a car manufacturer and is set to become even more important in future. Without the courage to go in search of new ideas, there would be no motor car; and without innovation, there would be no progress. Mercedes-Benz, the inventor of the motor car, has always pressed ahead vigorously with the development of that mode of transport. For instance, the company has repeatedly underpinned its claim to technological leadership with over 80,000 patent applications since 1886, the year in which Carl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler, respectively, unveiled their “Patent-Motorwagen” and “motorised carriage”. As the world’s first car, the Benz Patent-Motorwagen is the symbol of pioneering spirit par excellence. In its day, the exquisitely engineered three-wheeler made it clear at first sight that a new age of mobility had dawned. Daimler’s motorised carriage was the first motor car with four wheels.
These two vehicles represented the start of a unique success story – a story that has continuously had new chapters added to it by Mercedes-Benz. For, time and time again, it has been trendsetting inventions from the Stuttgart-based car manufacturer that have resulted in the “horseless carriage”, which was initially said by critics to have “no future”, evolving not only into an icon of personal freedom, but also into a significant factor within the economy. Alongside the first bus and the first motor truck, the company’s most important innovations also include the first modern passenger car, the Mercedes 35 hp, which was presented in February 1900.
Mercedes 35 hp: the prototype of all modern passenger cars
At the turn of the century, the Mercedes 35 hp, the prototype of all modern passenger cars, was the definition of a fundamentally new and ever since prevailing vehicle architecture: it marked the transition from the long-legged “motor carriage” to the motor car as we know it today. The decisive technical innovations were its long wheelbase, wide track, low centre of gravity and angled steering column. These improvements created the basis for comfortable and safe driving, something that was first turned into reality in a Mercedes.
There are also some characteristic features such as the elongated form and the honeycomb radiator, which, organically integrated into the front end, was to finally solve the hitherto omnipresent problem of how to cool the engine, quite apart from emerging as a distinguishing mark of the brand. With its light-alloy crankcase, the powerful four-cylinder engine served as a model for today’s still current lightweight design and was, furthermore, installed low in the frame. Its exhaust valves were controlled by a camshaft, this significantly improving the smoothness of operation, stability at idle and acceleration. The construction principle of “engine at the front, final drive to the rear wheels” was to establish itself in the long term as the conventional drive layout.
The first Mercedes – the first modern-day motor car
The “35 hp” was the first vehicle to sport the Mercedes brand name and went down in history as the first modern-day motor car. Many other manufacturers were to copy this innovative concept, which proved to be superior in every respect. Mercedes-Benz thus from an early date established its claim to be the leader in technology and design.
Spirit of innovation as a driving force behind car development
Thanks to its design creativity, Mercedes-Benz has been successful in driving ahead automotive progress with a succession of new ideas aimed at constantly reinventing the concept of personal mobility and opening up new areas of application. Its power of innovation has allowed Mercedes-Benz to evolve into an automotive manufacturer with a unique and diverse product offering. Today, the brand with the star encompasses a range of vehicles that includes compact passenger cars, such as the A-Class, and luxury saloons, such as the S-Class; vans like the Sprinter; buses like the Citaro; and heavy-duty trucks such as the Actros. The smart brand adds to the product portfolio with a vehicle that is for many the perfect city runabout. Today’s smart fortwo dates back to a Mercedes-Benz study, presented in the early 1980s, into a “short-distance transport vehicle”. The two-seater concept vehicle was the starting point of a twin-track development that gave rise in the 1990s to the company’s first compact car: the A-Class and the smart city coupé, the predecessor of today’s smart fortwo.
Time and time again, Mercedes-Benz has been at the forefront of new concepts of personal mobility and has also opened up entirely new market segments. For example, the SLK, which was unveiled in 1996, was the first compact premium roadster. This was followed one year later by the M-Class, the first premium SUV, which owed its development to experience gained by Mercedes engineers in connection with all-wheel drive technology for the legendary G-Class and the Unimog. The most recent example is the CLS, which in 2004 established the segment of the four-door coupé. What is more, the sheer breadth of technical innovations to have first entered the marketplace in Mercedes models is proof that the inventor of the motor car has consistently played a leading role in all key aspects of the further development of this means of transport – from drive technology to safety and comfort through to design.
Mercedes-Benz engine technology: a driving force in all areas
Mercedes-Benz has been a pioneer in engine technology for 125 years. The high-speed petrol engine was, in the truest sense of the word, the “driving force” behind the invention of the motor car. The Daimler 8 hp “Phaeton”, unveiled in 1898, was the first road-going vehicle to feature a four-cylinder engine. In 1923 Benz launched the first diesel-engined truck. Another trendsetting Mercedes innovation was a diesel engine suitable for use in passenger cars, which was introduced in 1936: in the world’s first volume-produced diesel passenger car, the Mercedes-Benz 260 D.
In the years that have since followed, Mercedes-Benz has continued to set a succession of further milestones in the development of the compression-ignition engine. Numerous technological innovations, such as the common rail diesel (CDI) with turbocharger, have resulted in greater power and torque allied to better fuel economy and reduced exhaust emissions. Today, the brand with the star is present in all segments of the market with a range of models powered by quiet-running, high-torque and high-efficiency CDI engines which – based on their power output – consume up to ten times less fuel than the diesel pioneer of 1936.
BlueTEC: making the diesel as clean as the modern petrol engine
With BlueTEC, Mercedes-Benz has additionally developed a technology for effective reduction of diesel emissions, especially the emissions of nitrogen oxides. Up to 90 percent of NOx emissions in the exhaust gas are broken down into harmless nitrogen and water, making the diesel engine as clean as the modern petrol engine. Passenger cars with BlueTEC have been available from Mercedes-Benz since 2006, currently both in the E- and S-Class and also in the SUVs of the GL-, R- and M-Class.
Developed originally for Mercedes-Benz commercial vehicles, BlueTEC made its debut in a Mercedes truck in 2005, after which it was adapted for application in passenger cars. This example illustrates one of the company’s particular strengths: in-house cross-sector technology transfer, which helps to ensure that innovations with great benefits for the customer are able to be implemented quickly and systematically across the entire product range.
Modern Mercedes-Benz engines with great future potential
The future potential of the internal-combustion engine is underscored by Mercedes-Benz with the 2010 launch of its new S 250 CDI BlueEFFICIENCY, the first five-litre car in the luxury class. The first four-cylinder engine in the over 60-year successful history of the S-Class – a highly efficient twin-turbocharged diesel – achieves a fuel consumption of just 5.7 litres per 100 kilometres in the NEDC (New European Driving Cycle). With CO2 emissions of 149 g/km, the S 250 CDI BlueEFFICIENCY is the first vehicle in its class to better the 150 gram mark.
From the first compressor engine to the modern direct-injection petrol engine
The inventor of the motor car has also played a key role in the development of the spark-ignition engine. Back in the early 1920s, the then Daimler Motor Company adapted mechanical supercharging, which had originally been developed for aircraft engines, for use in motor cars. Thanks to the compressor technology they embodied, the Mercedes 6/25 hp and 10/40 hp models offered greater power and higher efficiency than comparable naturally aspirated vehicles.
Mercedes-Benz installed the first series-produced four-stroke direct-injection petrol engine in its legendary 300 SL sports car of 1954. What served at that time above all to boost the power output is today used by Mercedes engineers, in combination with other measures, to increase the efficiency, i.e. to achieve a significant reduction in consumption while at the same time raising the power output.
The Mercedes-Benz strategy for the internal-combustion engine of today and tomorrow is: consistent use of direct injection in both petrol and diesel engines, downsizing, turbocharging, variable valve timing. And, with the introduction in autumn 2009 of the new four-cylinder turbocharged direct-injection petrol engine in the E-Class, Mercedes-Benz set about putting this strategy into practice – from the four-cylinder through to the eight-cylinder engine and in all relevant model series. The result: high power output with good fuel economy and correspondingly low CO2 emissions.
BlueDIRECT: making the petrol engine as economical as the diesel
Efficiency at the highest level is the common hallmark of a generation of six- and eight-cylinder power units that were launched in 2010 in the S-Class, CL-Class and the new CLS. While each of the engines offers increased power and torque in comparison with its predecessor, fuel consumption – in the new CLS, for example – has been lowered by up to 25 percent. This means that, where fuel efficiency is concerned, the modern BlueDIRECT direct-injection petrol engines from Mercedes-Benz have moved a further step closer to their diesel counterparts. The increase in efficiency is due in part to a series of targeted BlueEFFICIENCY measures, especially the ECO start/stop function, which is already standard equip-ment in many models and which by mid-2011 will be made available by Mercedes-Benz across its entire product range in over 50 models.
Pioneer in alternative drive technologies
Mercedes-Benz was also quick off the mark in the field of alternative drive technologies. As early as 1906, Mercedes for the first time equipped passenger cars, trucks, buses and fire-fighting vehicles with battery-electric or hybrid drives. In the 1970s, development of the electric and hybrid drive was revived and intensively promoted.
Building on this unique wealth of experience, Mercedes-Benz has introduced a series of modern vehicles with alternative drives that point the way to an ultimately emission-free mode of mobility.
These include the S 400 HYBRID luxury saloon, unveiled in 2009, which was the first European-manufactured hybrid passenger car and also the first series-produced hybrid to feature advanced lithium-ion battery technology. Soon after that, Mercedes-Benz brought out three state-of-the-art electric cars in rapid succession: the A-Class E-CELL and the Vito E-CELL van with battery-electric drive as well as the fuel-cell-powered B-Class F-CELL. The company’s line-up of electric cars is rounded off by the smart fortwo electric drive, which has been heralded as a revolutionary new development in urban mobility with zero local emissions.
Safety: there’s a bit of Mercedes in every modern-day motor car
Nowhere in the world is there a manufacturer that has invested more in the development of automotive safety than Mercedes-Benz. For 70 years now, the safety experts at Mercedes have been systematically at work studying the causes of accidents, lessening their consequences and helping to avoid accidents. Mercedes’s comprehensive commitment is demonstrated by no fewer than three anniversaries in 2009: “70 years of safety development”, “50 years of the rigid passenger compartment” and “40 years of accident research”.
As far as passive safety is concerned, the focus is on affording the vehicle occupants the best possible protection in the event of an accident. An example of this is the rigid passenger compartment with crumple zones, which was patented by Mercedes-Benz in 1951 and went into series production for the first time in 1959 in the 220 S and 220 SE “Fintail models”. Seat belt and airbag are further examples of innovations that were introduced into series production by Mercedes-Benz as original solutions to real-world problems. Today, they are a self-evident part of the automotive experience of every motorist. That explains why it can be said that there’s a bit of Mercedes-Benz in every modern-day motor car.
Lessening the consequences of accidents – avoiding accidents entirely
Active safety is at the centre of efforts to reach the goal of accident-free driving. In pursuit of this goal, Mercedes-Benz has developed a number of innovations that are capable of lessening the severity of accidents or of preventing them entirely. The electronically controlled ABS and ESP® are Mercedes developments that have demonstrably contributed to a significant reduction in the frequency of accidents. Once again, these safety systems are today standard equipment in virtually all cars. The ABS anti-lock braking system was introduced in 1978 in the Series 116 S-Class, while the airbag was launched in 1981 in the Series 126 S-Class. Mercedes-Benz brought out the ESP® electronic stability program in 1995 in the Series 140 S-Class Coupé, before then gradually extending it to all model series.
Mercedes-Benz was the first car manufacturer in the world to unite active and passive safety features within this system, thereby further enhancing the degree of protection afforded to vehicle occupants. The launch of PRE-SAFE® in 2002 op-ened another new chapter in the history of automotive safety. Mercedes-Benz systematically bases its safety technology developments on what actually happens in accidents and also on the findings from its own in-house accident research activities. Innovative systems such as the Active Blind Spot Assist or ATTENTION ASSIST address typical causes of accidents such as lane-changing and driver fatigue.
Selected milestones in the history of Mercedes-Benz safety technology:
1939 – Inception of passenger-car safety development
1959 – World’s first safety body
1969 – Establishment of Mercedes-Benz accident research
1978 – Electronically controlled anti-lock braking system (ABS)
1980 – Pyrotechnic airbag, seat belt tensioner
1989 – Automatically raised roll-over bar
1995 – Electronic Stability Program (ESP®)
1996 – Brake Assist (BAS)
1998 – DISTRONIC adaptive cruise control
1999 – Active Body Control (ABC), tyre pressure monitor
2002 – PRE-SAFE® preventive occupant protection system
2003 – Active light function
2005 – DISTRONIC PLUS, Brake Assist PLUS, Night View Assist
2006 – PRE-SAFE® Brake, Intelligent Light System
2009 – Speed Limit Assist, Lane Keeping Assist, Blind Spot Assist, ATTENTION ASSIST drowsiness detection
2010 – Active Lane Keeping Assist, Active Blind Spot Assist; LED high-performance headlamps
Ride comfort: a traditional Mercedes-Benz strength
Ride comfort is a traditional Mercedes strength. Wide track, long wheelbase and tailor-made chassis systems – this is the basis on which Mercedes-Benz has for over a century ensured a standard of comfort on long journeys that is typical of the brand. As early as 1931, Mercedes-Benz set an important milestone in terms of chassis technology with its 170 model, which was the first volume-produced passenger car to feature independent suspension on all four wheels (“swing axles”). This design made for an entirely new driving experience, which was significantly better at compensating for irregularities in the road surface, thereby reducing not only road roar but also tyre vibration.
Time and time again, Mercedes-Benz has been a trailblazer with trendsetting new designs, such as the single-joint swing axle, which was launched in 1954, and the diagonal swing axle, which was unveiled in 1968. Both designs com-bined improved driving safety with additionally enhanced ride comfort. Then, in 1961, new standards were set with the first air suspension system in the 300 SE luxury saloon. In late 1982, the multi-link rear suspension system in the new compact class caused a technological sensation. This revolutionary system al-lowed for optimal movement of the independently suspended rear wheels by means of five three-dimensionally arranged links on each wheel. The multi-link rear suspension system was subsequently extended to all Mercedes-Benz saloons, coupés, cabriolets and sports cars with rear-wheel drive and has been emulated by many other manufacturers.
AIRMATIC: air suspension for even greater driving pleasure
In 1998 a further technological innovation was to make its debut in the S-Class, with the traditional spring and damper system with coil springs and gas-pressurised shock absorbers being superseded by the electronically controlled AIRMATIC (Adaptive Intelligent Ride Control) with air suspension and ADS Adaptive Damping System. Automatic independent level control of each wheel, which is also part of the AIRMATIC, takes account of the road surface, driving style and laden state, thereby ensuring excellent ride comfort.
The most important recent innovations have included ABC Active Body Control, the world’s first actively controlled suspension system, which was unveiled by Mercedes-Benz in 1991 in its C112 research vehicle and was introduced in the CL coupé in 1999. The system reduces body vibrations caused by bouncing and rolling movements when cornering or by pitching movements when braking. The ADVANCED AGILITY package made its debut in 2007, when it appeared first in the new C-Class. The package offers two shifting modes: Sport and Comfort. As part of these shifting programs, there is infinitely variable electronic control of the shock absorbers on each wheel.
PRE-SCAN: flying carpet on four wheels
Likewise in 2007, Mercedes-Benz unveiled the revolutionary PRE-SCAN chassis, which it presented in the F 700 research vehicle. The system can register road conditions in advance, react very sensitively to bumps and potholes and compensate for them more effectively than other chassis. The F 700 thus (almost) attains the comfort level of the proverbial “flying carpet”. The PRE-SCAN chassis uses two laser sensors in the headlights as “eyes”.
The MAGIC BODY CONTROL chassis that Mercedes-Benz presented in the autumn of 2010 is an advanced system that literally looks ahead – a highly sensitive stereo camera mounted on the windscreen, above the rear-view mirror, “observes” the road in front of the vehicle from two different perspectives, enabling the system to recognise uneven road surfaces in even greater detail. Fast on-board computers process all of the data in real-time and control the active ABC chassis, which can adjust the forces at each wheel separately. This allows the vehicle body’s movements to be largely compensated for, compared to today’s standard chassis.
Operating comfort: intelligent systems improve the driver’s physio-logical well-being
The principle of maximum possible simplicity and intuitiveness with regard to vehicle control dates back to the early days of the brand. Already in 1902, under the model designation “Mercedes Simplex”, new Mercedes models boasted the advances that had been made in terms of easier vehicle operation. For, at Mercedes-Benz, maximum comfort means much more than pleasant driving and high-quality features. All of our comfort solutions are intended to improve the driver’s condition and to consistently relieve driving strain by means of many individual measures that are painstakingly coordinated with one another. Operating comfort, ergonomics, air conditioning, low noise levels, handling properties and many other factors affect a driver’s condition behind the wheel, and thus also his or her ability to keep an overview of the traffic situation. After all, only a relaxed driver is also a safe driver.
Mercedes-Benz researchers have been investigating this complex topic, called “physiological well-being”, for many years, and Mercedes-Benz has consistently applied their findings to improve its series-production vehicles. As a result, it has been demonstrated that Mercedes drivers stay fit and focused for a longer time. Prime examples of the progress achieved in this field are the carefully designed, intuitive control and display concepts and the intelligent driving assistance systems, which turn the motor car into a partner that thinks along with the person behind the wheel.
Mercedes-Benz design: Design idiom developing through the interplay between tradition and a future-oriented approach
At Mercedes-Benz, design develops as a result of the interplay between the brand’s consciousness of tradition and its orientation towards the future. The aesthetic design of the motor car was decisively influenced by the “Lightning Benz”, which was unveiled in 1909, for the innovative design idiom of this record-breaking racing car was for the first time based on aerodynamic findings while at the same time radiating an air of supreme dynamism.
While masculine, powerfully modelled lines characterised the Mercedes-Benz models of the 1920s, from the beginning of the 1930s the design idiom switched gradually to gentler, flowing lines and rounded form elements. Highlights of this evolution were the 500 K from 1934 and its outwardly largely identical successor, the 540 K, which was launched in 1936. With their tailored forms and elegant, flowing lines, they were considered objects of perfect beauty.
1953: dawn of modern car design
In 1953 Mercedes-Benz stepped into the age of modernity with its 180 model. This saloon was characterised by its so-called three-box design – the third “box”, after front end and passenger compartment, being the luggage compartment. The self-supporting “unitary structure” not only impressed because of its increased stability and greater crashworthiness, but it was also significantly more modern in appearance. Compared with the traditional vehicle form with its pronounced wings, separate headlamps, side running boards and short rear overhang, the unitary-structure models also offered a number of practical advantages: a roomier interior, better visibility, a lower drag coefficient, reduced wind noise and a considerably larger luggage compartment.
Many outstanding Mercedes-Benz models have significantly influenced the design evolution of the motor car. Often described as a design icon, the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL “gull-wing” embodied pedigree and class like no other car of its age. It remains to this day a highly sought-after dream car and in 1999 was voted “sports car of the century” by an international jury of car experts. The 300 SL was the first Mercedes-Benz road vehicle to sport a horizontal air inlet opening with the star in the middle. This new front section was to become the hallmark of all future SL touring sports cars.
Launched in 1959, the so-called 220, 220 S and 220 SE “Fintail models” also set new standards with their inimitable form, which united function with elegance. Known officially as “markers”, the tail fins were at once beautiful and also useful for parking and, in combination with the ample all-round visibility, anticipated the transformation in customer expectations.
Proven stylistic elements combined with new ideas
As model-specific characteristics of unmistakable brand identity, present-day Mercedes-Benz vehicles frequently exhibit stylistic details from the brand’s past. These include, for example, the curving lines of the current E-Class family, which are reminiscent of the unitary-structure models of the 1950s; or the fins and lateral ventilation openings on the SL, the basic form of which likewise dates back to the 1950s. These classic elements, however, are in all cases reinterpreted with a contemporary look. In this way, Mercedes-Benz consistently steers clear of fashionable, often short-lived retro trends. Rather, the designers at Mercedes-Benz seek to emphasize the rich heritage of the company’s car models by combining proven stylistic elements of the brand with new ideas, thereby continuously evolving the design.
Mercedes-Benz pursues a long-term design strategy, which guarantees that a Mercedes is always recognisable as a Mercedes. In this endeavour, the designers at Mercedes employ a sophisticated design idiom in which elements that make a vehicle recognisable at first sight as a Mercedes-Benz are combined with a distinct design philosophy typical of each particular model series, which leads to each vehicle having its own unique character. For example, the SUV models are clearly different from the saloons, coupés and sports cars.
The final outcome is an attractive blend of visual distinctiveness and unmistakable brand identity, the Mercedes-Benz design idiom remaining alive in every detail – modern, but never ‘trendy’.
The same principle applies to interior design and is systematically put into practice at Mercedes-Benz. Depending on the character of the vehicle, material qualities, forms and stylistic elements are developed and executed in a manner specific to the model series and each particular model, with, once again, individuality and overall harmony being given clear priority over overarching uniformity. Interior design, which is becoming an increasingly important part of overall vehicle design, today contributes more than ever to keeping alive the fascination of beauty for years to come. A car’s interior is seen as a living space in which the owner spends a lot of time.
Typical design idiom of the Mercedes-Benz brand – given a new interpretation
A preview of Mercedes-Benz’s future design idiom is afforded by the F 800 Style research vehicle, which is technology vehicle and design statement in one. The vehicle’s external appearance is characterised by its long wheelbase, short body overhangs and sensually flowing roof line. The exciting coupé-like side view, allied to the balanced proportions, results in a stylishly sporty appearance which further develops the Mercedes-Benz design idiom.
Room for creative thinking
Creativity has been written large for 125 years at the inventor of the motor car. German engineering and Swabian inventiveness have created a brand icon of world standing. The company promotes creativity by making room for free thinking and working, thereby guaranteeing that the source of innovation will never run dry.
In order to maintain its innovative edge, the company has established a global knowledge network to which employees from research and development contribute their know-how from a wide range of different disciplines. Last year, the company was able to retain its position as the premium car manufacturer with the most patent applications. Over half the total of 2070 filed applications relate to “green” technologies, as many as 720 of which concern the drive system (35 percent). Significant progress has been achieved above all in the fields of energy efficiency and exhaust-gas aftertreatment as well as fuel-cell and battery technology. By continuing to invest heavily in research and development, the company is laying the foundations for further maintaining its high standard of innovation over the long term.
Mercedes-Benz: the most valuable luxury brand in the world
Thanks to its systematic innovation strategy, Mercedes-Benz occupies a leading position in the league table of the world’s most valuable brands. This is backed up by the latest 2010 international studies, which confirm the special position held by the brand with the star in no fewer than three categories: “most valuable German brand”, “most valuable global premium car brand” and “most valuable global luxury brand”.
“Nothing but the best” – yesterday, today and in future
It was Carl Benz who said: “The love of inventing never dies”. And it was Gottlieb Daimler who came up with the famous maxim “The best or nothing”. Mercedes-Benz has remained true to these guiding principles for almost 125 years. The spirit of innovation, one of the key driving forces, is firmly rooted in our corporate culture – forever with the goal of guaranteeing personal mobility also for future generations and providing each individual customer with the optimal vehicle for their individual needs. This innovation is founded on Mercedes-Benz’s systematic research activities, which led at the beginning of the 1970s to the official establishment of a separate research department. Today, Mercedes-Benz has at its disposal a global knowledge network with some 19,000 researchers and developers around the world – an interdisciplinary think tank, full of pioneering spirit, expertise and motivation, for continuing in future to make the best cars in the worl