Camouflage road trip: Why the human factor remains crucial Dieter Zetsche | 15th May 2017

Christmas is still more than 200 days away. But this test drive felt a bit like when I was a little kid on Christmas Eve – excitement! I guess most kids felt like that: One knew something big was approaching but it seemed to take ages for it to arrive. Even as a six-year-old, one understood intuitively what Einstein meant with the relativity of time...

Nowadays, I have that feeling several times a year when we go on a test drive with a new Mercedes. It’s basically like an assessment center for cars: They need to pass before they can join the club. The jury is our management team. The candidates are all new cars and technologies with the star – very well camouflaged – and on quiet roads we check whether they are ready for series production. That’s one of the best parts of my job – but also one of the toughest. Because just like before Christmas I know that something good is coming, but not in a few hours. It sometimes takes a few months before these cars are in the showrooms.

We’ve just been test driving our new 2018 A-Class. This Mercedes is special. And that’s not just because it stirs my childhood memories, but because it’s a symbol for the rejuvenation of our entire brand that began with the launch of the current A-Class back in 2012. In the United States for example, more than half of all customers for a compact Mercedes model are new to our brand, while the average age of an A-Class customer in Europe has dropped by 13.5 years from the previous to the current model. So our small cars had a big impact on our unit sales: Over the past five years, we’ve sold more than two million of them.

But we have even more ambitious plans for the future. We will expand our family of compact cars to eight models. The next generation will offer even more advanced assistance systems to pave the way into the future of autonomous driving. Because we are convinced: The democratization of this innovation will accelerate its spread.

Of course, all technologies and vehicles have been tested thoroughly long before we start these test drives. We invest a lot of effort in creating and testing digital prototypes before we even begin building areal one. The initial crash tests, aerodynamic studies or suspension tests are also undertaken as simulations in a virtual world.

Plus, we’ve created one of the world’s most capable climatic wind tunnels. This facility near Stuttgart, Germany, can simulate the coldest Swedish winter or the hottest days in Death Valley. Temperatures ranging from minus 40 to plus 60 degrees Celsius, hurricanes with wind speeds of up to 265 km/h, tropical rainfall and snowstorms are all part of the standard repertoire available there.

So, why we do still go on these road trips in camouflage?

Because the human factor remains key to success – especially with highly emotive products like a premium car. What’s the sound when you close the door? Does the driving performance live up to the sporty design? Do the car’s quality and ease of operation deserve the Mercedes star? We believe we have to hit the road and drive the cars ourselves to answer these questions.

Our verdict after driving the new A-Class was clear: The product offensive can continue. So I’m now counting the days until 2018 when we can finally take the camouflage off the car.

Until then, I want to thank our entire A-Class team. This test drive underlined yet again: You guys have done an amazing job!

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