Interview: Markus Schäfer

Member of the Board of Management of Daimler AG, Group Research and Mercedes-Benz Cars, Chief Operating Officer

What are the main initiatives of your strategy to decarbonize?

Sustainability is a central pillar of our corporate business strategy. One focus is our goal of climate-neutral mobility within the next 20 years. We are aware that we do have a huge responsibility here and do our best to make an important contribution slowing down climate change. We adhere to this plan also in the current situation and consistently pursue our vision of maximum fascinating mobility with the least possible negative impact on the planet. 

Mercedes-Benz is the first premium automobile manufacturer to have had its climate protection objectives scientifically verified by the Science-Based Targets Initiative (SBTI) to underline that we support the Paris World Climate Accord with these targets. Almost one year ago, we have defined concrete measures under the umbrella “Ambition 2039”, considering the entire value chain of a vehicle in a holistic approach towards a circular economy. 

Those measures stretch from development to the supplier network, our own production to the electrification of our products, goes beyond renewable energies for the use phase of electric vehicles, and closes the cycle with innovative recycling concepts. Just to name one example: We have just announced that as early as 2022, our own Mercedes-Benz car and van plants will produce CO2-neutral worldwide, including more than 30 car and van factories worldwide.

What is your view on return on investments in the area of decarbonization, especially considering the (still limited) customer demand? Is that money well spent?

We as a company stand by our social, ecological and economic responsibility. For us, there is no question that the path towards a CO2-neutral company and long-term economic success go hand in hand. Even if we are aware that this transformation is a huge challenge, we are convinced of the necessary investments in the future. 

We will therefore continue to invest in the necessary technologies, which we are convinced are crucial for the successful transformation of our company. Having a look in the very diverse markets and regulatory situations, there is still room and need to continue to work on several solutions. We continue to consistently pursue our three-lane drive strategy with an intelligent mix of the latest internal combustion engines including 48-volt technology, tailor-made plug-in hybrids and purely electric vehicles. 

By the end of this year, the goal is to have five fully electric car models and 20 plug-in hybrid variants on the market. The plug-in hybrid portfolio extends from model variants of the A-Class to the S-Class, from the GLA to the GLE with electrical ranges of up to 100 kilometers. On the purely battery-electric side, our model offensive continues without a break. The fully electric Mercedes-Benz EQC models, the three smart EQ models and, soon, the EQV are already available. But also, purely electrical variants in the compact segment, like the purely electrical EQS for sustainable luxury in the premium segment, are already in the starting blocks. With this mix of drive types, we are convinced that we can offer our customers the right vehicle for a wide variety of needs and market scenarios. 

Last but not least, this also includes green financing, for example with green bonds. Such measures create new opportunities to support future investments in CO2-neutral technologies. At the same time, they allow environment-oriented investors to be directly involved in Daimler’s ambitious sustainability projects. This way, Daimler supports the European Union’s Green Deal, which, among other things, aims to motivate institutional investors to channel more capital into low-carbon and climate-neutral projects.

Where do you see the most promising potentials of digitization for the automotive industry?

There are two main streams in automotive from my side: On the one hand the digitization of the creation and manufacturing of a vehicle. My vision is to see in the beginning maybe only clay to witness stunning proportions and the beautiful exterior and interior of a vehicle. But after the design freeze, I could imagine a total digital process to develop and test a vehicle in cyber space. The process includes a digital production process and ends in hardware at the latest possible point. The company thinks and acts in end to end processes which are highly digitized.

On the other hand the vehicle itself gets digital including its own ecosystem. The Mercedes of the future will be developed inside out. A software-driven architecture will be the core, including a Mercedes Operating System. Driver assistance in various levels based on ample computing power and artificial intelligence will be cutting edge. Infotainment on highest levels and powerful connectivity including cloud based backends provide an outstanding experience for the user. A massive transformation to digital and software orientation is a path we follow.

How do you transform Daimler’s engineering to digital? How does this affect the required skillset of engineers?

As a company founded by engineers, we believe technology can also help to engineer a better future. Our way to sustainable mobility is innovation — in a holistic approach along the entire value chain. This is our main focus while transforming Daimler to digital and when we are looking for new talents. We are looking for professionals that are passionate about their ideas, that drive innovation — and that are team players. They should love to work on the future of tomorrow!

Interview: Markus Schäfer