Pre­par­ing to take the wheel at Daim­ler

IN­TER­VIEW/ Mark Smyth spoke with Ola Kal­le­nius, the next chair­man of the lead­ing car maker

Business Day - Motor News - - FOCUS ON: FAW TRUCKS -

Ola Källenius is 49 and Swedish. With­out con­text, this is in­con­se­quen­tial, but he has just been an­nounced as the suc­ces­sor to Di­eter Zetsche, the chair­man of Daim­ler.

Zetsche is older, and he is Ger­man. Many would ex­pect Kal­le­nius to be the boss of Volvo, but he is go­ing to be the big boss of Daim­ler, in­clud­ing MercedesBenz. And he is not Ger­man.

He is cur­rently a mem­ber of the board of man­age­ment of Daim­ler though, re­spon­si­ble for group re­search and MercedesBenz de­vel­op­ment. He has a great deal on his plate, not least of all be­com­ing the first nonGer­man chair­man of the mas­sive Daim­ler Group.

Sit­ting down with Källenius, it was clear he is not ready to dis­cuss his new ap­point­ment yet.

“This is, of course, a very ex­cit­ing and in­ter­est­ing chal­lenge, but some­thing to talk about next year, so I’m fo­cus­ing for the next nine months on re­search and de­vel­op­ment, but we’ll get back to it next year.”

First he has to deal with the is­sue of fur­ther re­duc­ing emis­sions af­ter the EU voted to im­pose even stricter tar­gets on the in­dus­try from 2025.

“Elec­tri­fi­ca­tion is key to meet­ing the fu­ture tar­gets, but you have to look at the po­si­tion that we start in; we have just had a change in cer­ti­fi­ca­tion pro­ce­dure from the NEDC (lab­o­ra­tory test­ing con­di­tions) cy­cle to the WLTP (real-world test­ing con­di­tions) cy­cle, which, with a much wider en­ve­lope in terms of the driv­ing pro­file for the WLTP cy­cle, is mov­ing the CO2 val­ues up.

“One must have as a goal to meet the (ex­ist­ing) stan­dard in 2020-21, which will be a tremen­dous chal­lenge; there are no two ways about that. That will be a tremen­dous chal­lenge where we are putting the tech­ni­cal foun­da­tion in place to be able to do it. The one thing that we can­not con­trol, cer­tainly not in the short term, is what hap­pens in the mar­ket place — and how … the cus­tomer makes his or her choice — and I think that’s where the in­se­cu­rity lies.


“Yes, we have a mas­sive elec­tri­fi­ca­tion of­fen­sive in the mak­ing and if you look at it, it’s a three­p­ronged ap­proach. Ev­ery sin­gle one of our com­bus­tion en­gines will be com­bined with 48V, so mild hy­brid is the en­try point into our brand. Ev­ery sin­gle model will have a plug-in hy­brid from S-Class to A-Class. We’re now in the gen­er­a­tion where we are switch­ing over from our 30km hy­brids to our 50km (ones) … the GLE will ac­tu­ally be the first car with a 100km range on a plug-in hy­brid in the WLTP cy­cle.”

Asked if the in­creased range will come from a switch to diesel power, he replied: “We didn’t say that but you shall see soon (sec­ond half 2019), so plug-in hy­brids from top to bot­tom and then of course the EQ fam­ily. That is hap­pen­ing on the road to­wards 2025 and then of course broaden that on the road to 2030.”

Pushed fur­ther on the ques­tion of a re­turn for diesel, he said: “The good news is that the cur­rent gen­er­a­tion diesel en­gines that we’re putting into the mar­ket are great per­form­ers, both in terms of NOx and fuel econ­omy. So the in­tense dis­cus­sion that we have had over the past cou­ple of years — what’s the NOx per­for­mance? — I would ar­gue that prob­lem is solved.”

Meet­ing emis­sions tar­gets is some­thing that will con­tinue to keep Källenius busy even af­ter he takes on the new role, but there are other chal­lenges too.

“The tech­ni­cally most com­plex task to solve is au­ton­o­mous drive Level 4 and Level 5, so if you look at ev­ery­thing that needs to come to­gether to make that work in a chaotic city driv­ing sit­u­a­tion, in a safe man­ner, is cer­tainly the most so­phis­ti­cated chal­lenge. We are work­ing on a two-pronged ap­proach. On the one hand, as the next level driver as­sis­tance sys­tems, where to­day we have so­phis­ti­cated Level 2+ sys­tems I would call them, we’re on the verge of jump­ing to Level 3 which is our tar­get for the next S-Class, that is some­thing that you can then buy as an op­tion and you can then pro­lif­er­ate, es­pe­cially with a brand like Mercedes, rel­a­tively quickly into higher vol­umes.

“The Level 4, Level 5 ef­fort is for a use case for a mo­bil­ity ser­vice, so a robo-taxi, for a city and there in the next three to four years we want to com­mer­cialise that for the first time.”

Then there is the mat­ter of fur­ther col­lab­o­ra­tion with part­ners in a global au­to­mo­tive mar­ket. This year, Chi­nese car maker Geely took a stake in Daim­ler, so could there be more co-op­er­a­tion be­tween the brands or is it just a fi­nan­cial trans­ac­tion?

“The ini­tial con­tacts have been con­struc­tive and what projects can come out of that — it’s still a bit too early to say, but dis­cus­sions are on­go­ing.”

As for Geely’s own­er­ship of Volvo, Kal­le­nius said it’s too soon to say whether there could there be some col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween Mercedes and Volvo.

Back to re­search and de­vel­op­ment: is it a dif­fi­cult en­vi­ron­ment cur­rently, given the rapid change in tech­nol­ogy and mar­ket de­mands?

“If you ask the en­gi­neers — th­ese are the best of times. Fi­nan­cially, it is of course a big­ger chal­lenge to tran­si­tion a whole in­dus­try and a whole in­fra­struc­ture from be­ing solely com­bus­tion-based to go­ing into heavy elec­tri­fi­ca­tion. So we have to man­age care­fully how we nav­i­gate through this trans­for­ma­tion fi­nan­cially, but tech­ni­cally we’re ex­cited about it and feel that we are in a good po­si­tion on many of those fronts.”


Ola Källenius is cur­rently in charge of re­search and de­vel­op­ment at Daim­ler, but will take on the chair­man­ship in 2019. Below: The con­cept EQ SUV coupé gives a pre­view of a new gen­er­a­tion of Mercedes ve­hi­cles with bat­tery­elec­tric drives.

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