You joined what was then Daimler-Benz AG in 1993 as part of the international junior staff group. Much has changed since then and the industry is going through a major transformation. What developments over recent years are you particularly proud of?
We have successfully managed to realign ourselves structurally and strategically – as a pure-play company with a full focus on decarbonisation and digitalisation. We have achieved this in parallel with the challenges of the past two years: from the Covid-19 pandemic to the impact of the shocking war in Ukraine. The Mercedes-Benz team has responded to each challenge with flexibility, cohesion and creativity. I am proud of that.
In addition to our many colleagues, I would also like to thank our clients for their patience and loyalty. I thank them in particular for their understanding if delivery of their new vehicles is delayed due to the challenging situation.
Ola Källenius, chairman of the Board of Management of Mercedes-Benz AG.
Which developments will you be particularly involved with in the next five years?
When I started at Mercedes-Benz, automated driving and fully electric and fully connected cars were pure science fiction. Today, this is reality and we continue to develop these. We want to continue rolling out e-drives across the entire portfolio, accelerate software development and further strengthen Mercedes-Benz as the leading manufacturer of luxury cars and premium vans. In other words: we want to build the most desirable cars in the world – irrespective of the drive form.
The shift to an all-electric future brings with it many challenges, such as changed raw material requirements. How do you deal with these sorts of situations?
In the wake of the global shortage of semiconductors, we have thoroughly examined and optimised our entire value chain. The transition to electromobility will bring with it much more movement in the demand for raw materials. One of the consequences of this is that we will diversify our supply chains even more to further minimise our risk. That’s why we recently signed a memorandum of understanding with the Canadian government, for example, to strengthen cooperation along the entire automotive value chain.
Synthetic fuels – some see them as an opportunity, others view them critically. Which alternative drives to the electric motor are particularly appealing to Mercedes-Benz?
The battery is currently superior to the fuel cell in terms of large-volume market introduction. The higher energy density in battery technology has reduced the fuel cell’s range advantage in passenger cars. And their efficiency has also made huge strides: we have an efficiency of around 90 per cent with the EQS. This means that up to 90 per cent of the energy stored in the battery reaches the wheels. By way of comparison: a vehicle with an efficient combustion engine achieves only about 30 per cent. As far as the use of fuel cells is concerned, we continue to monitor the market and are keeping the option open to offer this technology as well in due course.
Regarding sustainability: Mercedes-Benz Group AG supports the EU “Fit for 55” climate initiative. So, what will mobility look like in 2055?
Of course, it’s not possible to reliably predict from today’s knowledge exactly what the future state of the art will be. The automobile will certainly change even more and even faster in the next ten years than in the past decades.
Around 70 years ago, people were imagining cars powered by a nuclear reactor as an energy source and a range of 8,000 kilometres. This shows that questions about the future of mobility have been around for a long time, but that the resulting predictions have rarely been accurate. My hope is that by 2055, humanity will be 100 per cent sustainable in as many regions of the world as possible. We want to achieve the goal of CO2 neutrality along the entire value chain in the new vehicle fleet by 2039 at Mercedes-Benz and to become 100 per cent electric as early as 2030 wherever market conditions permit.
To what extent does the VISION EQXX provide a glimpse of the future here?
It is particularly remarkable that in just 18 months, using a worldwide cross-divisional team, we have devised the most efficient Mercedes ever from the proverbial blank sheet of paper and given it wheels. Our ambition was to drive over 1,000 kilometres in real road traffic on a single battery charge – powered by a battery that fits in a compact car. The VISION EQXX actually managed 1,202 kilometres during the drive from Stuttgart to Silverstone, Great Britain. Needless to say, this was a huge success for all involved. Our customers can certainly look forward to many innovations that we will bring through to series production.
This section is called “Moments That Matter”. What are those moments for you?
Professionally speaking, for me it has to include the moments when we present a new vehicle. Because this is the culmination of extremely hard work by countless colleagues, sometimes over years, to bring the car onto the road with the Mercedes quality and perfection that everybody expects. That’s why a world premiere like this is a well-deserved reward for all involved and definitely a “Moment That Matters”.
In your position as chairman of the Board, you carry an enormous amount of responsibility – what keeps you grounded when you are not working?
It’s my family that grounds me most and helps me switch off. The children have left home now, so I enjoy it all the more when my wife and I get to spend time with them. I also enjoy playing tennis. And OK, I won’t become a Roger Federer in this life, but sport is a way to achieve balance for me. The same goes for a good book or an exciting film.
One last question: How did you imagine the automobile of the future when you were a child?
With a star on the bonnet [laughs]. Seriously though: unfortunately, I have never had anywhere near the design talent that our head designer Gorden Wagener and his team have, neither as a child nor now as an adult. For me back then, a car had four wheels, a steering wheel and an exhaust pipe. Today’s generation probably draws their cars without an exhaust by now. Children’s fantasies aside, though, we are working on this in a very tangible way.