The Future of the Original: The Research Cars of Mercedes-Benz
Research is a motor of progress. This is the principle that motivated Carl Benz to design his famous Patent Motor Car back in 1886. He calculated, tinkered, discarded ideas – and finally went on to build a vehicle that apart from the wheels had little in common with previous ones. Everything else was original, different – a stroke of genius. This was the first automobile.
Daimler AG is the world’s oldest car manufacturer and it has always been clear that research and innovation are the basis of success. The Mercedes-Benz brand heeds this principle. Engineering under the three-pointed star is always ahead of its time, setting the standards on a global scale. This applies particularly to the company’s research cars: what the designers and engineers realize in these fully operational cars extends far into the future – but many a feature will soon find itself in a production car sporting the star.
Daimler AG has devoted itself to this path of innovation and over the years has presented research vehicles to the public at almost regular intervals. These reflect a recent chapter in the more than 120-year history of the company – and a very exciting one indeed, because a look at the past and current research vehicles is both retrospective and preview of the future of the automobile – for instance of the F 700, the most recent research car from Mercedes-Benz.
Mercedes-Benz has always been testing new automotive concepts on fully operational vehicles. This has been done even more systematically from 1969. In the C 111, the Wankel or rotary-piston engine was tested initially, later to be followed by other drive systems. This car was thus one of the forerunners of the research cars. The latter’s history began in 1978 with the “Auto 2000” with which Mercedes-Benz engaged in in-depth basic research for new automobiles. It was followed by the NAFA in 1981. The more recent lineup began with the F 100 of 1991 – the “F” standing for the German word for research car. Since then, research cars all fitting the description “holistic” have been produced with almost infallible regularity: they serve not just to test single components but often demonstrate an entirely new vehicle concept in the form of a ready-to-drive automobile incorporating many forward-looking technologies.
Apart from research cars, the company distinguishes several other types of vehicle which serve to develop new models.
Technology vehicles are production cars equipped with new technology for the purpose of testing. For example, the Research division of Daimler AG uses several modified A-Class cars to test fuel cell systems and drives.
Test vehicles are close relatives of the research cars. They serve to put new technologies from the research labs out onto the test track to try them out in practical operation.
Concept cars at Daimler AG are near-production ready-to-drive vehicle studies. They position a future vehicle model in the market. One example is the Study A of 1993 which shows several characteristic attributes of the subsequent A-Class. Concept cars are equipped with new technology which already sees use in production cars or will soon reach production standard.
Vehicle studies are feasibility studies that show new ideas in the form of a complete automobile. But they usually are not roadworthy. This category includes NAFA, a short-distance vehicle study which originated a good twenty years ago. It had a short, high body and thus was a forerunner of the Mercedes-Benz A-Class and the smart city coupe.