STANDING outside in the snow on a Wednesday afternoon in downtown Stuttgart can have its benefits. The passive smoking outside the hotel is not fun, but it’s impossible to avoid a smile when a pair of top-secret Daimler prototypes idle past.
The first is disguised, but barely. It’s a Benz prime mover with graffiti camouflage splashed over the cabin, and it sticks out in traffic exactly because of the crazy bodywork and because there is nothing hitched to the tail.
As it glides past, surprisingly quietly, the reason is clear. Right behind the cabin is an experimental fuel cell stack, indicating this heavy hauler is being used to assess the future of hydrogen power in electric trucks for the not-too-distant future.
Not five minutes later, as the cigarette fog starts to clear, a flat-black compact comes into view.
It’s one of Benz’s new B-Class compacts and is wrapped in fake bodywork, oddball wheels and finished with cheapie tail-lights.
The new B is hard to pick in pictures, but up close it’s easy to see the longer and lower bodywork, glass that cuts down deeper into the doors, a smoother new dash outline and the work that’s gone into making it more than just an affordable city box with a three-pointed star.
Benz has eight new-model introductions planned this year and there was a real insight— official and unofficial— during the company’s 125th anniversary celebrations last Saturday.
The official program starts with the unveiling of the latest SLK roadster by F1 drivers Michael Schumacher, Nico Rosberg and David Coulthard.
It continues when a design presentation on the car includes slides with sketches of the coming cabins of the B-Class, baby A-Class and even Benz’s new segment-buster car, the E-Classbased Shooting Brake.
The unofficial stuff happens when we get lost inside Benz’s experimental headquarters and do a lap of the carpark. There’s almost a dozen B-Class prototypes, but we also get a quick peek at the lightly disguised C-Class coupe, the thumping C63 AMGCoupe, the next ML SUV and even an updated SL roadster and a giant GL partly hidden under a car cover.