At this year's New York motor show, Britta Seeger, head of Sales and Marketing for Mercedes-Benz, reinforced the brand’s commitment to working harder on new hybrid technology and to better positioning the public’s understanding of autonomous driving technology.
“We have a very clear plan to work even more on hybrid,” Seeger told Australian media. “We have already eight plug ins, and we will add even more.
"With the next [and as yet unreleased] S-Class plug-in hybrid, we will have a 50 kilometre-plus range, for example. We don’t have the charging infrastructure everywhere, but it is a good solution for our customers currently.”
Seeger’s mention of the new S-Class’ electric-only range is the first time that has been quoted, marking a roughly 20km improvement over the current S500e.
Seeger, like most representatives in her position, is keen to point out the role that governments around the world must play to make the technology more accessible, not to mention roll out the infrastructure that will make it possible.
“On a global scale, if we don’t see government incentives, buyers will not line up at the retail store,” Seeger said. “You still need enough products to offer, though, to create the market. I think we will see that around 16 percent of our sales globally by 2025 should be plug-in hybrid.
"Investing in new technology is part of our DNA, and I truly believe it must be, to have healthy sales in the future. We need to have the right product range of course, so the customer will buy because it is the right product regardless of incentives.”
There’s no doubt, though, that countries like Australia have lagged behind with tardy governments not willing to spend the requisite money to back the infrastructure required to make plug-in hybrids a viable - and indeed attractive - alternative.
“The more the government pushes customers into the direction that they need to buy, the better,” Seeger said. “Range anxiety is still the biggest issue for people buying this technology. We are working with other manufacturers on infrastructure.
"For example, six months ago, we participated in a consortium with different manufacturers - we want more to join - in order to set up infrastructure in Europe, but the government needs to make sure the infrastructure is up and running.”
Following our recent discussion at the Australian Grand Prix with Jochen Haab, Manager Validation and Communication of Driver Assistance Systems, we asked Mrs Seeger for her thoughts on autonomous-driving technology and the recent dropping of the term ‘Pilot’ from the naming.
“That’s one thing we have changed, not to name this 'pilot' anymore,” Seeger said. “We don’t want the buyer to think it is the car driving itself. (A perception issue which continues to plague Tesla with its Autopilot system.)
"Assistance systems is the new way we refer to it, and that is very important as it sets the expectations. In communicating to the customer, we take a lot of care to remind them how the system works and what it does.”
So, was it a mistake to originally call the system Pilot? “It wasn’t a mistake calling it pilot, no, but taking into account the buyer, the name is easier to understand now.”
Companies like Mercedes-Benz are moving ahead rapidly with autonomous driving technology though, even if governments are nowhere near working out how they can legislate the technology once it is fully functional. That’s another challenge Mercedes-Benz is working on.
“On the technology side, we will see increases in very short times,” Seeger said. “Artificial intelligence, learning, better maps, investing in different technology will evolve very fast.
"The legislation is very important because it needs to be set and this will probably take some time. We need to find answers to questions, we need to take the right decision in government. I’m very confident and we are aware that we need to set the right expectations with the customers first and foremost.”
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