Mercedes’ mutters of invention
“OUR founders were inventors of the automobile,” says Dieter Zetsche, “and we have to continue to reinvent the automobile.”
It won’t be easy, as the head of Mercedes-Benz knows.
As the pace of technological change quickens and ambitious newcomers such as Tesla, Google and Apple plan to steal the parking spaces of established brands, the world’s oldest car maker must become faster and more agile.
So Mercedes-Benz is working hard to future-proof itself. Zetsche, also chairman of parent company Daimler, believes a defensive strategy isn’t an option. “Then we’ll be toast, or history, or whatever,” he says.
Not everything needs to change, he adds. “The next S-Class (still) has to be the best car in the world. And you can’t offer it as a beta version.
“We have to maintain many of the strengths of our past but at the same time we have to create this cultural ambience which allows us to work in a very different way.”
Some parts of Daimler, which has about 280,000 employees worldwide, have adopted what the executive describes as “basically the setup of a start-up” and work with a thinner corporate rule book. Company offices — including those of Zetsche and his directors — and meeting places are being gradually stripped of their doors.
There are eight 16-member teams working to create “prototypes of a new leadership model and culture for our company”. The mixed-gender teams, drawn from the full spectrum of the workforce, include two Australians.
The groups, which collaborate virtually, will meet face-to-face for the first time next month to merge their work into one, maybe two, prototypes to present to the board.
“We want to know from them how we should work in future,” says Zetsche.
Meanwhile, the company needs to keep producing models to maintain its hard-earned status as an industry leader.
Zetsche notes Tesla’s lead in electric cars and the success of boss Elon Musk in building a market for its expanding product line-up. “Elon is an absolute mastermind as far as publicity is concerned,” says Zetsche. “He has, over time, promised a lot, delivered much if not most of it. He is offering a package which none of us has.”
Zetsche confirms Mercedes is working on a car to take on Tesla — “We will be able to offer ranges of 400km or 500km as well, in the not so far future” — and says specific details are coming “very soon”.
Mercedes will keep developing autonomous driving technology. Given its potential to reduce road deaths, it’s a good fit with the company’s long-term emphasis on safety.
Zetsche cites his company’s advantages over industry newcomers. “The development of a car is making the best compromises,” he says.
“Compromise is not a nice word. You don’t want to tell your customer that their car has any compromises but you have to deliver on many targets which are to some extent in conflict. That’s ... where experience helps.”
Benzz bossss Diietterr Zettsscche:: ”” We haave tto rreiinventt tthe aauttomobiille””