AT no point in history has mobility been more diverse than, perhaps, this year at the Internationale Automobil-Ausstellung (IAA) in Frankfurt, Germany.
Amid the usual petrol and diesel vehicles that are the bread and butter of the motor industry, hybrid and electric vehicles have begun to populate the floors in force.
The centrepiece of Mercedes-Benz’s exhibition was the Mercedes Project One supercar.
Powered by a 1.6-litre turbocharged V6 hybrid powerplant, it makes more than 1000hp and is powered by a petrol-electric engine. But what is perhaps even more fascinating is that it has a thermal efficiency of 40 per cent.
In his speech at the Mercedes-Benz and smart press conference, Mercedes-Benz Cars head Dr Dieter Zetsche said hybrid vehicles had been a strategy of the company for years.
“Another one is, of course, all-electric vehicles. The third and still important element of our future strategy is efficient-gasoline and, in particular, diesel engines,” he said.
He added that the fact remained that banning a technology overnight would be a disservice to climate politics.
“We need all three types of drive in order to achieve a noticeable improvement in the air quality of our cities and reduced CO2 levels,” said Zetsche.
THE FUTURE IS ALMOST HERE
Mercedes-Benz is no stranger to electrification.
The company has been electrifying since 2003, said Jurgen Schenk, electric vehicles chief engineer at Daimler AG, during an interview with the Cars, Bikes and Trucks on the sidelines of the 2017 Frankfurt Motor Show.
“Our first hybrid was the S400 hybrid from 2009. It had only a 1kwh battery,” he said.
However, the technology has leapt by leaps and bounds, he said.
At the show, Mercedes also launched the S560e. Equipped with a 13.5 kWh battery, the car has a range of up to 50km on full electric.
“Battery chemistry improves year by year,” said Schenk.
“However, what is making the technology increasingly relevant is the decline in prices for battery cells, as well as the tremendous progress in charging times,” he added.
Charging times now are going down to 25 minutes for a range of up to 250km.
Mercedes-Benz aims to have at least 10 models in just few more years. This is part of a 10 billion euro (RM50 billion) expansion of the electric fleet.
It plans to have 50 electrified car versions by 2022. “From smart cars to big SUVs and sedans,” said Schenk.
Electric cars of the future will have ranges that are “clearly above 500km”. To make these improvements in electric cars, they are looking at all types of batteries.
The key challenge is energy density, said Schenk.
Batteries take up a lot of space in cars. But this may improve in the near future with better chemical engineering of batteries.?
Asked if electric cars would replace petrol and diesel vehicles in the near future, Schenk said it was hard to predict the future.
“We are convinced not one correct (type of drive). It’s not either or. We will do one thing without abandoning the others. However, mobility will become more diverse,” he added.
Asked if new electric-car manufacturers posed a threat to present carmakers, Schenk said he welcomed the challenge from the new entrants, and believed that Mercedes-Benz would continue to be the leading car manufacturer, even in the electric age.
“Our electric cars will be the benchmark. Our cars are the sum of their characteristics, in every area, from safety, to comfort and NVH (noise, vibration, and harshness) levels,” he said.
Taking design into autonomous age
DESIGN has always been one of the appeals of Mercedes-Benz cars in the past. Going into the future though, car design may undergo a dramatic shift. Autonomous or driverless cars may result in major changes to the design of future vehjcles.
The demographics of buyers are changing too - with a shift to younger buyers for many luxury brands. How will these changes shape the face of Mercedes-Benz cars of the future?
The shift to autonomous driving may present an opportunity to designers, says Robert Lesnik, director of exterior design at Mercedes-Benz.
For example, side windows may not be present on the cars of the future.
“There is probably no need to look outside. The occupants will be busy with devices,” said Lesnik, adding that there may be changes to regulations for these cars as well.
“There may be no need to fulfill some regulations. This is an opportunity.”
At the Frankfurt Motor Show, Mercedes-Benz displayed the new EQA concept with a ”virtual radiator grille” that changed its appearance depending on the selected driving mode.
For headlights and the rear, the car uses laser fibres. Mercedes-Benz says the Concept EQA is another example of the logical evolution of its “Sensual Purity” design idiom: In the new car, sharp edges and lines have been significantly reduced.
At the show, Mercedes-Benz also displayed the Vision Mercedes-Maybach 6 Cabriolet, which had been unveiled at the recent Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. Powered by electric drive via four motors to each wheel, with its long bonnet and classically inspired design, the car is a statement on how electric drive enables a wide range of design options.
Also on display at the show was the Mercedes-Benz Vision Tokyo, which was launched in Tokyo in 2015. The car is a study of how an autonomous car of the future would look like. To give contrast and context, Mercedes also displayed its C111/2 concept from 1970. Powered by a Wankel engine and built from fibreglass, the car gave an idea of how design had evolved over the decades.
Of course, with the shift to electric cars, design has to reflect this with a new design language.
“Mercedes EQ cars are purpose-designed. It’s not enough to put a few blue lines on them. Thankfully, we have a big DNA pool to select from,” he said.
Would the cars appeal less to traditional buyers?
Lesnik said designers should not be afraid to do something modernisation.
“Modern luxury is a progressive luxury. What people perceive as new, we designed four to five years in advance. It’s our job. You can’t ask people what they would like,” he said.
He added that it was up to the designers to set the direction of design.
Lesnik said it was a different challenge for the company that invented the car. However, sometimes inspiration came from the past.
“We have the luxury grille, sport grille and the Panamericana grille. With the Panamericana grille, we already had it in 1952 on the SL Panamericana,” he added.
Despite the shifting demographics, Lesnik added that Mercedes-Benz did not specifically target the young when it came to design, but catered to all buyers.
“We are not targeting the young. We have so many car (models), you can find exactly the one you need. When you design a car, you don’t make that difference,” he said.