“We have entered the Mercedes era”
- Emil Jellinek (1853-1918), early engineering and marketing strategist
- The successful businessman suggests improvements to the vehicles
- The automobiles of Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft are named Mercedes after his daughter
Emil Jellinek was a young man who enjoyed a fashionable lifestyle when the automobile was invented in 1886. He was fascinated with the new product and owned one ever since they appeared: after first trying out a De Dion three-wheeler he bought a four-wheeled Benz Viktoria when the model became available in 1893. But he was not really satisfied yet with the new vehicles. In his view they could be better and had not developed their full potential. He referred to the Benz, for example, as a “monster,” comparing it with a crawling spider. Eventually, in 1896 a newspaper advertisement of Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft (DMG) caught Jellinek’s attention. He travelled to Cannstatt and ordered two belt-driven cars, “a four-horsepower and a nine-horsepower” which were said to do 40 km/h (25 mph) on a “smooth road” – an unheard-of speed in the outgoing nineteenth century.
In Nice, where Emil Jellinek spent most of the year, and which was then a meeting place for the upper crust of France and Europe mainly in the winter, the horseless carriages caught on very well. Starting in 1897 Jellinek promoted the Daimler automobiles in the highest social circles, working as an independent dealer. The Rothschild family and other well-known personalities bought cars from him. By the time Gottlieb Daimler passed away in 1900, Jellinek had managed to sell 34 cars this way. This gave him weight in his dealings with DMG, and he repeatedly demanded technical innovations of Daimler and engineer Wilhelm Maybach. He combined an ability to judge vehicles with an antenna for the market, and, viewed on the whole, definitely can be described as a marketing strategist.
Jellinek finally convinced Daimler and Maybach that the future of the automobile lay in speed and elegance.
Jellinek finally convinced Daimler and Maybach that the future of the automobile lay in speed and elegance. “When I came on the scene the Daimler cars were solid, usable and reliable in service, but only cars in theory” he is quoted as saying. But he did not see speed as a temptation to be imprudent, rather he considered it the real purpose of a motor vehicle: “If I can’t get any more out of an automobile than out of a horse and carriage, then I might as well travel by horse again!” Moreover, he suggested that the inventor of the automobile compete in races and reliability runs under his own name and with his own cars, because “racing will make a name for a factory and a brand.”
The birth of the Mercedes brand
Jellinek took a hand in racing himself. For a racing event in Nice in 1899 he had two Daimler Phoenix cars built for himself. They had an output of 21 kW (29 hp) – a great deal for that period. The vehicles could pass for sports cars or racing cars. To support him, DMG sent him Wilhelm Bauer, a foreman who was most familiar with the Phoenix model.
This race is regarded as the birth of the Mercedes brand. As the story about the origin of the name commonly goes, Jellinek took part under the pseudonym “Monsieur Mercédès” – this was a normal way for race participants to conceal their identity in those days. Mercedes was the name of his daughter which “has a nice Spanish ring to it. Spain holds a place of honour among my father’s fancies,” Guy Jellinek-Mercedes relates. “He has a good command of the language and likes to speak it.”
“I am not interested in today’s car or tomorrow’s – I want the car of the day after tomorrow!”
However, the cars from the Daimler company were not good enough to win either the speed trials or the hillclimb. This spurred Jellinek on: he strongly interfered in the company’s model policy, demanding more powerful, faster vehicles from DMG. In addition, he wanted a new chassis: wider, longer, lower-slung, lighter – in short: safer than before, even at higher speeds. “I am not interested in today’s car or tomorrow’s – I want the car of the day after tomorrow!” This was Emil Jellinek’s maxim. “My workshop is the road. Only the road is the criterion for me.”
During the Nice racing week at the end of March 1900, disaster struck. In the Nice – La Turbie mountain race Daimler factory driver Wilhelm Bauer suffered a fatal accident with the car entered in the race as “Mercédès II.” Co-driver Hermann Braun, who already overturned in the Nice – Marseille race with “Mercédès I,” the second Daimler entered at the race week, again remain unscathed. Cannstatt’s first reaction was to make excessive engine outputs responsible for the accident and to stay away from any speed events in future.
However, Emil Jellinek convinced Wilhelm Maybach – Gottlieb Daimler had died shortly before, in early March – that the car’s high centre of gravity was responsible for the accident: “Victories bring world fame. People buy the winning brand, and will always buy it. It would be commercial suicide to abstain from racing,” Jellinek argued. “What we need is a new vehicle of completely different design.”
DMG yielded to Jellinek’s urging, and on 2 April 1900 Jellinek ordered the development of a new kind of car: it was to have an output of at least 26 kW (35 hp), a lightweight engine, a lower centre of gravity – in short, it had to be light, well-proportioned and fast. Jellinek proposed that the new model series be named “Daimler-Mercedes”, and so in 1900 “Mercedes” appeared for the first time as a brand name in its own right and not as a designation for an individual car or driver.
DMG was confronted with the problem of sales financing, however. The company needed further capital: even assuming it would be a success, whether or not the cars actually would be sold still posed a relatively high risk. On ordering the fast, handsome vehicles, Emil Jellinek proposed that he take a fixed number at ex works price and share the sales profit with DMG. The company agreed: on 2 April 1900 the dealer and the manufacturer concluded an agreement on the sale of cars and engines “providing that the sale of the engines under the name Daimler-Mercedes be handled by Jellinek,” as a 1915 commemorative volume states. The dealer committed himself to take a complete series of 36 cars for a total price of 550,000 marks and was to see to it that the press in France, Germany and Austria reported on the new vehicle. On top of that he was voted onto the DMG supervisory board in October 1900.
The agreement also assured him far-reaching sales rights for more powerful cars from DMG in all major markets. From April 1900 Emil Jellinek was thus general distributor for Austria-Hungary, France, Belgium and the USA – “practically for the whole world,” as one chronicler writes. Jellinek himself was a citizen of Austria-Hungary. In the countries where he was sole distributor, the cars were sold under name “Mercedes,” while in all other countries they initially sold as “new Daimler.” But soon people in all countries only talked about “Mercedes cars.”