Development boss explains German marque's new digital tech-focused direction.

Mercedes-Benz says it has changed its operating rhythm to operate more as a flexible software company rather than a traditional hardware company in order to better deal with the requirements of a digitally connected car going into the future.

Speaking to CarAdvice at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, the member of the board and head of group R&D at Mercedes-Benz, Ola Kallenius, confirmed the company’s directional change.

“Speaking of the future, we show very clearly where the technologies of our company is heading. Our vehicles are now platforms of digital progress and we operate as a software company with more flexibility and adaptiveness with agility to do developments and customer requirements [faster]. Our goal is to build trailblazing mobile devices that enhance our customers lives.” Kallenius said.

The Mercedes-Benz of today and the future will be far more focused on the digital content experience rather than just the hardware of the car itself, even if that obviously remains important, according to Kallenius,

“I think driving/riding experience of a Mercedes, if you were a customer is that special gene of Mercedes and we will definitely not give that up, but the digital content and experience and the buying experience is much more important.”

Even so, the work on the cars themselves will continue to thrive.

“For sure for individual mobility, as long as humans are physical beings we need to also create the physical vehicle, so from developing all the capabilities that we have learnt over the last 130 years, intelligent light body construction crash safety [we will keep that]. But where in the past the car was like an island, it sat there as its own island, now it’s the ultimate mobile device.”

Mercedes-Benz’s new infotainment system, named MBUX, is the first step in this digital approach and the company happily admits that it set its benchmarks on Apple for intuitiveness and usability when it came to creating the interface.

“We took a white sheet approach to MBUX, three years ago... from the look and feel, [it has to] feel Mercedes, has to be the highest level in digital. [We aimed to] beat the best (apple), have that ambition that from a five year old kid to a 50+ senior executive that within a few minutes, they just get it.”

As far as Mercedes is concerned, its digital systems are a platform all on their own and are no longer linked to individual cars. This explains why the new A-Class and the just unveiled CLA (below) has better infotainment technology than the brand’s range-topping S-Class.

“That domain of development is the software company because its not linked to a car, its a platform in its own right but we don’t put that into our cars, and a huge part of that is in the cloud, we developed capability in the cloud and the car accesses the cloud.”

The idea being that with Mercedes Me cloud, you have a customer profile that can go from car to car, much in the same way that your Apple ID can go from one Apple device to another.

It’s clear that the resources now allocated to advancing the brand’s digital offerings are significantly higher than a few year ago.

“In the last few years, we have put more and more emphasis and monetary emphasis into this area, what we hope though, if you seperate the digital side from individual model lines and think of it as a platform, you can build additional rooms to this house and you can proliferate much quickly, so you have economies of scale once you have done building, so we now have the foundation and we will keep building on that foundation," Kallenius continued.

"In the past you were producing a model line and developing telematic systems for that line and then pick another supplier for another model line and develop it again and again, but now that you have a core capability and you have it in the cloud anywhere, so you can put it anywhere.”

This software-centric approach is no doubt in response to companies like Tesla that have taken automotive manufacturing in a different direction, focusing on the digital experience more than the driving, which makes sense in the electric vehicle segment as powertrains are no longer as important.

Do you believe that is the right direction for Mercedes?