Werner Breitschwerdt was with Daimler-Benz AG from 1953 until 1987, latterly as Chairman of the Board of Management. His name is closely associated in particular with the Mercedes-Benz 190 (model series W 201), also known as the “Baby Benz,” which was premiered in 1982. As part of the PROMETHEUS research programme launched in 1986, Breitschwerdt played a definitive role in shaping the vision of accident-free driving by way of electronic assistance systems. Under his stewardship, various research vehicles and technology vehicles featuring alternative drive concepts were also designed.
During his career, Werner Breitschwerdt worked his way up through various roles in the company. He joined Daimler-Benz AG in 1953, initially employed in a variety of positions within the passenger car body division. In July 1973, he became director and head of development for this section, with styling (as the design division was then known) being added to his responsibilities one year later. In 1977, Breitschwerdt joined the Board of Management of Daimler-Benz AG as a deputy member before being appointed a full member in 1979. In this capacity, he was responsible for research and development and therefore all technology and topics of the future within the Group. From 1983 until 1987, Breitschwerdt was Chairman of the Board of Management and CEO of Daimler-Benz AG.
During the 1960s Breitschwerdt oversaw the introduction of automotive electronics. One particular milestone was the anti-lock braking system ABS, which was introduced by Mercedes-Benz in 1970 and celebrated its worldwide series premiere in the S-Class (W 116) in 1978.
Another important step was the PROMETHEUS European joint research project (Programme for European Traffic with Highest Efficiency and Unprecedented Safety). This was initiated in 1986 when Werner Breitschwerdt was CEO of what was then Daimler-Benz AG and involved cooperation between several European car manufacturers, electronics companies and suppliers, universities and institutes over a period of eight years. The result was numerous technologies offering huge benefits. At Mercedes-Benz, these were translated into specific technical products such as the DISTRONIC PLUS cruise control system and the automatic PRE-SAFE® Brake system. These and other technologies also form part of the vision of accident-free driving, the catalyst behind many of the company’s innovations for cars, both now and in the future.
Werner Breitschwerdt’s name is also linked with several Mercedes-Benz model series. While he was responsible for research and development, a totally new generation of vehicles came into being: the S-Class W 126 (1979 to 1991), the mid-sized W 124 (1984 to 1995) and the SL R 129 model series (1989 to 2001), thereby cementing Mercedes-Benz’s leadership in terms of both technology and design.
Breitschwerdt achieved a tour de force in the shape of the 190 model (W 201), which came onto the market in 1982. He applied typical Mercedes-Benz values such as safety and comfort to compact models – something that is only possible by deploying sophisticated technical solutions like multi-link independent rear suspension. Entering this segment of the market was rather controversial at the time and represented a risk for Mercedes-Benz. However, the success of the W 201 model series as the direct predecessor of the C-Class meant that Breitschwerdt’s gamble paid off. At the same time, the W 201 was the first step in diversifying the brand across many segments. This went on to become a systematic strategy during the 1990s.
Breitschwerdt was committed to pursuing Daimler-Benz’s longstanding philosophy of vehicle and occupant safety. In all vehicles, Breitschwerdt succeeded in combining traditional Mercedes-Benz standards such as quality, robustness and proven technology with progressive, dynamic attributes and sporting elegance. This invigorated the international market, setting the course for the years ahead. By extending and developing the range, Breitschwerdt also gave new impetus to Mercedes-Benz commercial vehicles.
Werner Breitschwerdt has been the recipient of numerous awards. The Technical University of Karlsruhe bestowed on him an honorary professorship in 1979, for example, and in 1984 the University of the Ruhr at Bochum awarded him an honorary Doctor of Engineering degree. In 1987 he was appointed an Honorary Senator of the Ruprecht-Karls University, Heidelberg. And that same year he received the Citizen Medal from his native city of Stuttgart. Werner Breitschwerdt is also holder of the Grand Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany. He was inducted into the European Automotive Hall of Fame, Geneva, in 2009.