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„Digital Vehicle and Mobility“.

Even before our camera is set up for the first photo, Sajjad Khan voices an idea: we could show one half of his head as a realistic image, the other half spewing out digital visions of automotive designs of the future. The art director and photographer look at one another questioningly. How do you photograph a vision? Especially one that is confidential. Khan heads up the Digital Vehicle and Mobility unit at Mercedes-Benz Development, where he coordinates the activities of 1,000 specialists based in locations ranging from Germany’s Sindelfingen to the USA, India, Japan, South Korea, and China. Their common goal is to develop software and hardware solutions for the connected vehicle – making cars safer and more comfortable by integrating systems, apps, and services that can be used both inside and outside the vehicle.

For the photoshoot, we agree to sit Khan at the wheel of an E-Class, with a projector casting ones and zeros onto his face. “That’s very appropriate,” he says. The new E-Class is the most digitized vehicle ever. And the binary code is too abstract to reveal any confidential developments. In any case, Khan would rather talk about his visions during our interview.

„Digital Vehicle and Mobility“.„Digital Vehicle and Mobility“.
An outstanding experience.

An outstanding experience.

Mr Khan, what is more important for a car produced in 2016: its engine or the software?

One is as important as the other. When you drive a Mercedes-Benz, you expect it to be an outstanding experience in every way – from the sound it makes when you open the door to the driving performance and the way it displays useful information.

But the digital aspect is now increasingly significant.

That’s true. Our aim is to exhaust all digitization possibilities with a view to enhancing quality of life. Humanity has made enormous progress over the last 100 years through the application of classical engineering – from horse-drawn carriages to aircraft. Over the next century, our lives will be shaped more by computer technologies. But mechanical innovations will retain their importance – because we are humans made of flesh and blood, and not just virtual beings.

In-car connectivity.

How digital is the new E-Class?

Many still see in-car connectivity as a buzzword. But for us it is no longer a trend: it is already a reality. And the new E-Class is setting the benchmark as the most connected car imaginable.

What do you mean by connectivity?

Simply put, the car is equipped with a kind of SIM card that enables it to connect with the Internet and apps, as well as with the concierge and eCall services supplied exclusively by Mercedes-Benz. The E-Class has enormous digital capabilities. And these are not just an attractive bonus – they are an integral part of the car, a vein running all the way through it. But connectivity itself is just an enabling technology. The real question is: what do we do with it?

Exactly – so what are you doing with it?

Let me give you one example. The E-Class provides the driver with tailored, context-driven information. If you are driving a diesel vehicle and getting low on fuel, the navigation system will show you all the gas stations along your route – as well as the current price of their fuel. No need for you to select a special tab or open an app. No need to do anything – except choose a gas station and allow yourself to be guided to it.

Is that what you call car-to-X communication?

An example of it, yes, because the car is accessing information from outside. We are very selective about what information we supply. There has to be genuine added value for the customer. Connectivity for connectivity’s sake is meaningless. We hope to be surprising our customers in 2016 with a few outstanding features.

“24 plus”.

“24 plus”.

When will that be exactly?

We are making new software available every three months. In theory, we could be doing it even faster. But we don’t think the customer will be keen on receiving constant messages about updates to the car’s software. Our job is not to make the driver’s life even more complex, but to supply solutions that are fully developed. Enhancing in-car comfort will therefore be a gradual process.

How can software improve comfort in ways that a good chassis cannot?

We call our approach “24 plus”. The basic idea is that all of us – whether you are royalty or a tradesman – are restricted by the 24 hours in any given day. What we aim to do is buy additional time for our customers by providing value-added services and customized information delivered automatically as and when required.

Driving safer.

Does the work you are doing make driving safer?

Yes. Safety has absolute priority when it comes to how the driver interacts intuitively with the graphic user interface. The touch control buttons integrated into the steering wheel in the E-Class are a world first which allow the driver to control systems using finger swipes while keeping both hands on the wheel. Instead of having to bend and look to one side or the other, both eyes remain fixed on the road ahead.

Are we getting close to accident-free driving?

That is our goal. Protecting road-users has been in the DNA at Mercedes-Benz ever since we started designing cars. The number of accident victims has already descreased dramatically. Digitization will ensure that the toll will fall to almost zero – thanks to automated driving and a range of driver assistance and information systems.

When will you reach zero?

If I had my way, it would be yesterday. But our success also depends on external factors such as traffic regulations and external infrastructure.

Does the work you are doing make driving safer?
Automated driving.

Automated driving.

What is your department doing to help bring about automated driving?

One of the keys to enabling driverless cars is access to high-resolution roadmaps and street atlases. That is why a consortium made up of Daimler AG, Audi, and BMW recently bought the mapping service Nokia Here. We are working on ways to harness that data for automated driving.

What message do you have for customers who fear that this new technology is set to take away a little piece of their freedom?

As with every new technology, I think it will take time to adjust. Automated driving still faces a few significant challenges. First, in terms of technology it has to function flawlessly. And secondly, if customers are to feel comfortable with the new technology we have to earn their trust, which is also a question of user experience: how can the driver be sure that the car is better at observing and scanning the traffic environment than he does himself? Well, one way would be by enabling the system to inform the driver that it has identified a hazardous situation two blocks away.

Are you working toward eventually doing away with the steering wheel altogether?

No, I think the driver will always want a choice. First thing in the morning, you will probably be happy to let the car do the driving, while you quietly get on with writing e-mails or chatting to your children on the school run. But on a Sunday when the sun is shining, you may prefer to sit at the wheel for a family trip into the mountains. Automated driving is set to broaden our range of options, not limit them.

True source of light.

Digitization, it is said, is already revolutionizing every aspect of our lives – mobility and car design included. So first impressions of the new E-Class come as something of a surprise. For although the car is most definitely a product of the Internet age, a digital native equipped with world firsts and cutting-edge technology, the view from the elegantly upholstered driver’s seat is not one of a world in upheaval, but of serenity, elegance, and safety. Everything about the car suggests it has been worked on by a team of upholsterers and master cabinet-makers rather than IT specialists. For in its new E-Class, Mercedes-Benz has achieved something remarkable – perhaps for the first time, the feeling you get from behind the wheel of the sedan is that the digital revolution is over. Design plays a key role in this – both inside and out. High tech is embedded in the interior in such a way as to make it seem entirely organic. A common glass cover hides two optional high-resolution displays, each with a 12.3-inch screen diagonal. It is as if a very large, very elegant smartphone is afloat in a landscape of leather – subtly illuminated by 64-color LED enhanced ambience lighting, which the driver can personalize at will. There is even a choice of styles for the design of on-screen instruments and graphics: “Classic”, “Sports” or “Progressive”.

By placing a smartphone in the cradle of the center console, the driver is connected at the touch of a button via Comand Online to the external antenna and hands-free system. At the same time, an inductive charging system supplies the phone battery with a cordless recharge.

The steering wheel is another great example of how organically the digital technology is embedded in the new E-Class, its four spokes featuring integrated touch control buttons for the first time. About 2 square centimetres (5/16 sq. in.) in size, the touch-sensitive buttons give the driver control of the entire infotainment system by means of vertical and horizontal finger swipes. So the driver can keep both hands on the wheel at all times, both eyes on the road – and the steering wheel is restored to its rightful role as the car’s key control element. However, for those who feel more comfortable with other input options, the touchpad can just as easily be operated via the Comand controller in the center console or Linguatronic voice control.

The prospect of fully automated driving.

The prospect of fully automated driving.

Out on the road, the driver is supported by a range of assistant systems that bring the prospect of fully automated driving a whole lot closer. The Active Distance Assist DISTRONIC not only prevents the driver from getting too close to the vehicle in front, it also enables the E-Class to automatically follow another vehicle at the appropriate distance on any type of road – up to speeds of 210 km/h (130 mph). The Active Steering Assist also assists the driver on moderate cornering. At speeds up to 130 km/h (81 mph), the system no longer has to rely on clearly visible lane markings, but can actively intervene even when markings are indistinct or completely absent, for example when navigating certain highway construction sites. The radar- and camera-based Active Lane Change Assist steers the sedan toward a pre-selected lane to execute an overtaking manoeuvre, for example. Should traffic begin to slow, the brakes are applied automatically and until such time as the way ahead is clear. Finally, the Remote Parking Assist enables the driver to park the car from outside the vehicle thanks to remote control via a smartphone app – very handy for tight parking spaces. For many drivers, especially fans of the TV series Knight Rider, this is a childhood fantasy come true.

The new E-Class is something special.

The new E-Class sets benchmarks not just in terms of design, interior and digital capabilities, but also with its engines and suspension. The E-Class is the only car in its segment to feature multi-chamber air suspension. Air Body Control not only regulates vehicle height, it also controls suspension comfort at front and rear axles.

Initially, the sedan is offered with a choice of four-cylinder gasoline engine or an all-new diesel unit. Both put their power down using the standard 9G-TRONIC 9-speed automatic transmission. Other engine types are in the pipeline – from six-cylinder units to hybrid and plug-in-hybrid variants.

Although the new E-Class is something special, it remains a typical Mercedes: the technology is intelligent, the design emotional. It is as if the two are made for one another. Perhaps digitization has not changed everything after all.

The new E-Class is something special.
Kraftstoffverbrauch kombiniert CO₂-Emissionen kombiniert Stromverbrauch im kombinierten Testzyklus

Product may vary after press date on 22.02.2016.

1 Die angegebenen Werte wurden nach dem vorgeschriebenen Messverfahren ermittelt. Es handelt sich um die „NEFZ-CO₂-Werte“ i. S. v. Art. 2 Nr. 1 Durchführungsverordnung (EU) 2017/1153. Die Kraftstoffverbrauchswerte wurden auf Basis dieser Werte errechnet. Der Stromverbrauch wurde auf der Grundlage der VO 692/2008/EG ermittelt. Weitere Informationen zum offiziellen Kraftstoffverbrauch und den offiziellen spezifischen CO₂-Emissionen neuer Personenkraftwagen können dem „Leitfaden über den Kraftstoffverbrauch, die CO₂-Emissionen und den Stromverbrauch aller neuen Personenkraftwagenmodelle“ entnommen werden, der an allen Verkaufsstellen und bei der Deutschen Automobil Treuhand GmbH unter www.dat.de unentgeltlich erhältlich ist.

2 Die angegebenen Werte sind die „gemessenen NEFZ-CO₂-Werte“ i. S. v. Art. 2 Nr. 2 Durchführungsverordnung (EU) 2017/1153, die im Einklang mit Anhang XII der Verordnung (EG) Nr. 692/2008 ermittelt wurden. Die Kraftstoffverbrauchswerte wurden auf Basis dieser Werte errechnet. Der Stromverbrauch wurde auf der Grundlage der VO 692/2008/EG ermittelt. Aufgrund gesetzlicher Änderungen der maßgeblichen Prüfverfahren können in der für die Fahrzeugzulassung und ggf. Kfz-Steuer maßgeblichen Übereinstimmungsbescheinigung des Fahrzeugs höhere Werte eingetragen sein. Weitere Informationen zum offiziellen Kraftstoffverbrauch und den offiziellen spezifischen CO₂-Emissionen neuer Personenkraftwagen können dem „Leitfaden über den Kraftstoffverbrauch und die CO₂-Emissionen neuer Personenkraftwagen“ entnommen werden, der an allen Verkaufsstellen und bei der Deutschen Automobil Treuhand GmbH unter www.dat.de unentgeltlich erhältlich ist.

4 Angaben zu Kraftstoffverbrauch, Stromverbrauch und CO₂-Emissionen sind vorläufig und wurden vom Technischen Dienst für das Zertifizierungsverfahren nach Maßgabe des WLTP-Prüfverfahrens ermittelt und in NEFZ-Werte korreliert. Eine EG-Typgenehmigung und Konformitätsbescheinigung mit amtlichen Werten liegen noch nicht vor. Abweichungen zwischen den Angaben und den amtlichen Werten sind möglich.

6 Stromverbrauch und Reichweite wurden auf der Grundlage der VO 692/2008/EG ermittelt. Stromverbrauch und Reichweite sind abhängig von der Fahrzeugkonfiguration. Weitere Informationen zum offiziellen Kraftstoffverbrauch und den offiziellen spezifischen CO₂-Emissionen neuer Personenkraftwagen können dem „Leitfaden über den Kraftstoffverbrauch, die CO₂-Emissionen und den Stromverbrauch aller neuen Personenkraftwagenmodelle“ entnommen werden, der an allen Verkaufsstellen und bei der Deutschen Automobil Treuhand GmbH unter www.dat.de unentgeltlich erhältlich ist.