It may have sold its shares in Californian automaker Tesla Motors, but that doesn’t mean German automaker Daimler isn’t interested in a cleaner, greener future for its brands.
Indeed, the company’s primary focus moving forward is the development of zero-emission vehicles that are also accident free. For now, that means developing both autonomous driving technology and fully-electric models.
That’s according to Daimler’s Chief Development Officer Thomas Weber, who told German-language publication Auto Motor Und Sport earlier this week that Daimler is currently driven by the goal to produce zero-emission, accident-free vehicles.
Unfazed by the threat from software companies like Google and Apple, both of which are developing their own autonomous electric vehicle programs, Weber said that the transition to safer, cleaner vehicles won’t be a problem with consumers or the company. As the first automaker to build a research and development centre in Silicon Valley more than two decades ago, Weber said Daimler was intimately aware of what the two firms were cable of, and welcomed discussion on autonomous driving programs.
Rather than view the two firms as rivals, Weber said he preferred to view them as a resource from which Daimler could learn.
“We believe that [the] German [auto] industry can certainly learn from the companies in [Silicon Valley] and its open discussion culture,” he said. “These companies in turn receive us with great respect.” Collaboration, he said, was not out of the question.
On the subject of electric vehicles and more specifically Tesla, Weber didn’t seem threatened by the inroads the electric automaker is making into the full-size luxury car segment.
Like BMW, Daimler is planning its own long-range electric competitors to Tesla’s range of electric cars. Likely to offer between 300 and 500 kilometers (186 to 310 miles), Weber said that it would be unlikely that the drivetrain would be used in just one vehicle.
Instead, he intimated, it would spawn a range of vehicles, which could be used on more than just A and B-Class vehicles.
Rather than force customers to buy low emissions cars however, Weber said Daimler would rely on the experience of driving an electric car to convince most to make the switch.
“Why [do] people buy Gucci bags?” he quipped. “A shopping bag would probably meet the same transport purpose…”
In other words, the pleasure and desirability of a fast-torquey drivetrain with incredible handling — as demonstrated in some of its existing electric vehicles — would be the way Daimler encourages customers to switch.
“The zero-emission driving, accident-free driving, which includes the autonomous driving is one [of our major focuses],” he said. “It has changed nothing and we focus heavily on the opportunities that bring us digitization.”
“This makes us more efficient and faster, and our customers benefit from this provision for the future,” he said, hinting at a future point where Daimler’s vehicles — including Mercedes-Benz and Smart models — come with the same kind of remote software upgradeability as the Tesla Model S and Tesla Model X electric cars.
While he didn’t give specifics, the first of these could be the new Mercedes-Benz E-Class, which Weber said would “be able to cope with more complex driving situations and be able, over a longer period [of time]” to operate in partially autonomous drive.
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