125 years of innovation: "The love of invention never ceases" – from the Benz patent motor car to the second invention of the automobile

Apr 19, 2011
On 29 January 1886, Carl Benz registered a patent for his three-wheeled motor car in Berlin – the official birthday of the automobile. In parallel with Benz, Gottlieb Daimler developed the first four-wheeled automobile. The founding fathers of today's Daimler AG and its core brand Mercedes-Benz therefore independently laid the foundations for all of today's passenger cars and commercial vehicles. Ever since, the inventor of the automobile has lastingly shaped its development in more ways than any other vehicle manufacturer – and in all relevant areas, from drive technology and comfort to safety and design.
Innovation has always been the key to success for automobile manufacturers, and will be even more important in future. Without the courage to develop new ideas there would be no automobiles, and no progress without innovative strength. As the inventor of the automobile, Mercedes-Benz is a driving force in its sustained development. Ever since Carl Benz presented the "Patent Motor Car" in 1886, and Gottlieb Daimler the "Motor Coach" in the same year, the company has repeatedly substantiated its claim to technological leadership with more than 80,000 registered patents to date. As the world's first automobile, the Benz Patent Motor Car is the very definition of pioneering spirit. At the time this dainty three-wheeler instantly made it clear that a new era in mobility had begun. Daimler's Motor Coach was the first automobile with four wheels.
These two inventions were the germ cells of an unrivalled success story which Mercedes-Benz has continuously enriched with new chapters. Again and again, it has been trailblazing inventions by the Stuttgart-based automobile company that have turned the "coach without horses", initially considered by critics to have "no future viability", not only into a symbol of individual freedom, but also into a major economic factor. In addition to the first omnibus and the first truck, one of the company's most important innovations was the first modern passenger car - the Mercedes 35 HP of 1900/1901.
Mercedes 35 HP: progenitor of all modern passenger cars
At the turn of the last century, the Mercedes 35 HP as the progenitor of all modern passenger cars defined a fundamentally new and still current vehicle architecture. This marked the change from the high-sprung "motorised coaches" to the automobile as we know it today. The decisive technical features were the long wheelbase, wide track, low centre of gravity and slanted steering column. All these characteristics together provided the conditions for comfortable and safe driving, realised for the first time in a Mercedes.
Other characteristic features included the long, stretched contours and the honeycomb radiator organically integrated into the front end, which finally solved the persistent problem of engine cooling and also became a recognisable design feature for the brand. The powerful four-cylinder engine with its alloy crankcase was a model for lightweight construction methods that are still in use, and was also installed low down in the frame. Its exhaust valves were controlled by a camshaft, which considerably improved smoothness, idling stability and acceleration. The construction principle "engine at the front, final drive at the rear wheels" has established itself as the standard drive configuration to the present day.
The first Mercedes - the first modern automobile
The "35 HP" was the first vehicle to carry the Mercedes brand name, and has gone down in history as the first modern automobile. Many other manufacturers adopted this innovative concept, which proved superior in every respect. It was therefore at a very early stage that Mercedes-Benz staked its claim to technological and conceptual leadership.
Innovative spirit: impulses for the development of the automobile
Thanks to its design creativity, Mercedes-Benz has again and again been able to give new impulses to automotive progress, reinvent individual mobility and open up new areas of application. Its innovative strength has made Mercedes-Benz an automobile manufacturer with a product range of unrivalled variety. Today the Mercedes-Benz portfolio alone covers a vehicle range from compact passenger cars like the A-Class to luxury saloons like the S-Class, vans such as the Sprinter and buses like the Citaro, right up to heavy trucks like the Actros. The "smart" brand supplements the product portfolio with a city car that many regard as perfect for its purpose. The present smart fortwo takes its origins from the vehicle study NAFA presented in the early 1980s. The two-seater concept car was the start of a twin-track development which brought forth the company's first compact cars in the 1990s: the A-Class and the smart city coupé, the predecessor to today's smart fortwo.
Again and again, Mercedes-Benz has defined new concepts for individual mobility and opened up completely new market segments: the SLK presented in 1996 was the first compact premium roadster, for example. In the following year the first premium SUV followed with the M-Class, during whose development Mercedes engineers benefitted from the off-roader experience gained with the legendary G-Class and the Unimog. The most recent example was the CLS, which founded the four-door coupé concept in 2004. In addition, the large number of technical innovations that first entered the market in Mercedes models demonstrates that the inventor of the automobile has decisively furthered its subsequent development in all major areas – from drive systems to safety, and from comfort to design.
Mercedes-Benz drive systems: a driving force in every respect
For 125 years Mercedes-Benz has also done pioneering work in the field of vehicle drive systems. In every sense of the word, the fast-running petrol engine was the "driving force" for the invention of the automobile. As early as 1898, the Daimler 8 hp "Phaeton" was the first roadgoing vehicle with a four-cylinder engine. In 1923 Benz presented the first truck with a diesel engine. As another trailblazing Mercedes development, the first passenger car diesel engine was introduced in 1936, in the world's first series-production diesel car - the Mercedes-Benz 260 D.
In subsequent years Mercedes-Benz set further milestones in diesel engine development. Numerous technical innovations such as the common-rail diesel (CDI) with turbocharger produced more output and torque for lower fuel consumption and reduced emissions. Today the company offers models with smooth, high-torque, highly efficient CDI engines in all segments. In relation to their performance, these consume up to ten times less fuel than the pioneering diesel of 1936.
BlueTEC: diesels as clean as petrol engines
With BlueTEC, Mercedes-Benz has also developed a technology for the effective reduction of diesel emissions, especially nitrogen oxides. Up to 90 percent of the NOX in the exhaust gases is reduced to form harmless nitrogen and water, making the diesel engine as clean as modern petrol engines. Mercedes-Benz has been offering passenger cars with BlueTEC since 2006, both in the E and S-Class and in the SUVs of the GL, R and M-Class.
BlueTEC was originally developed for Mercedes-Benz commercial vehicles, used in a Mercedes truck for the first time in 2005 and then adapted for use in passenger cars. This is a good example of one of the company's great strengths, namely the in-house, cross-divisional transfer of technology, which helps to ensure that with great benefit to the customers, innovations can be systematically and rapidly introduced across the entire product range.
Modern Mercedes-Benz engines with enormous future potential
In 2010 Mercedes-Benz demonstrated the future potential of the internal combustion engine with the new S 250 CDI BlueEFFICIENCY, the first car in the luxury class to achieve a fuel consumption of 5 litres per 100 km. As the first four-cylinder engine in the more than 60-year success story that is the S-Class, the highly-efficient, twin-turbocharged diesel unit achieves a fuel consumption of just 5.7 litres per 100 kilometres in the NEDC cycle With CO2 emissions of 149 g/km, the S 250 CDI BlueEFFICIENCY was the first vehicle in its class to undercut the 150-gram mark.
From the first supercharged engine to today's direct petrol injection
The inventor of the automobile has also had a decisive influence on the
development of the spark-ignition engine In the early 1920s, Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft adapted mechanical supercharging of the internal combustion engine, which it had brought to production maturity for aviation engines, for use in automobiles. Thanks to supercharging, the Mercedes models 6/25 HP and 10/40 HP offered more output and greater efficiency than comparable engines without supercharging.
In the legendary 300 SL sports car of 1954, Mercedes-Benz installed the first four-stroke petrol engine with direct petrol injection as standard. What was then mainly used to increase performance is nowadays used by Mercedes engineers to improve efficiency, i.e. to lower fuel consumption significantly while increasing output.
The Mercedes-Benz strategy for the internal combustion engines of today and
tomorrow is this: direct injection for all petrol and diesel units, downsizing, turbocharging and variable valve timing. In autumn 2009 Mercedes-Benz began to implement this concept with the introduction of the new, turbocharged 4-cylinder direct petrol injection engines in the E-Class – from 4 to 8-cylinder units, and in all relevant model series. The result is a high output combined with low fuel consumption and correspondingly low CO2 emissions.
BlueDIRECT: petrol engine as economical as the diesel
Efficiency at the highest level was the common factor in the six and eight-cylinder engine generation which Mercedes-Benz introduced in the S-Class, CL-Class and the new CLS in 2010. In all these units both output and torque were increased versus the preceding models, while fuel consumption – e.g. in the new CLS – was reduced by up to 25 percent. In terms of economy the modern BlueDIRECT direct petrol injection engines from Mercedes-Benz therefore came another step closer to the diesel engine. The efficiency improvements are partly due to specific BlueEFFICIENCY measures, especially the ECO start/stop function, which is already standard equipment in many models and will be available for more than 50 models across the entire product portfolio by mid-2011.
Pioneer in alternative powertrain technologies
Mercedes-Benz also became active in the field of alternative drive systems at an early stage. As early as 1906, Mercedes first equipped passenger cars, trucks, buses and firefighting vehicles with battery-electric or hybrid drive. In the 1970s development work on electric and hybrid drive systems recommenced on an intensive basis. Using its unique wealth of experience, Mercedes-Benz has realised modern vehicles with alternative drive systems which point the way to the final goal of emission-free mobility.
These include the S 400 HYBRID luxury saloon introduced in 2009, the first hybrid car by a European manufacturer and also the first series-production hybrid to feature the very latest lithium-ion battery technology. Shortly afterwards Mercedes-Benz put no less than three modern electric vehicles onto the roads in rapid succession: the A-Class E-CELL and the Vito E-CELL van with battery-electric drive, and the fuel cell powered B-Class F-CELL. The company's electric car portfolio is currently rounded off by the smart fortwo electric drive, which is seen as a pioneer in the new urban mobility with zero local emissions.
Safety: every modern automobile has a bit of Mercedes on board
There is no manufacturer worldwide who invests more in the development of automotive safety systems than Mercedes-Benz. For seven decades Mercedes safety specialists have systematically researched accident causes and sought ways to avoid accidents or mitigate their consequences. This comprehensive commitment is illustrated by no less than three anniversaries that were celebrated in 2009: "70 years of safety development", "50 years of the rigid passenger cell" and "40 years of accident research".
In the field of passive safety, the main focus is on the best possible occupant
protection in the event of an accident. On example is the rigid passenger compartment with crumple zones, which was patented by Mercedes-Benz in 1951 and first introduced into series production in the "Tailfin" models 220 S and 220 SE in 1959. The airbag is another example of an innovation that was brought to series maturity by Mercedes-Benz as the first practicable solution. Nowadays it is expected by every driver as a matter of course. It is therefore true to say: every modern automobile has a bit of Mercedes-Benz on board.
Mitigating accident effects – preventing accidents altogether
Active safety is the central focus on the road to accident-free driving. To this end Mercedes-Benz has developed innovations that are able to mitigate the effects of accidents or prevent them in the first place. The electronically controlled ABS and ESP® systems are Mercedes developments that have demonstrably helped to reduce the frequency of accidents. These safety systems too are nowadays included as standard by practically all manufacturers. The anti-lock braking system ABS was introduced in the 116-series S-Class in 1978, and the airbag in 1981 in the‑1 26-series S-Class. Mercedes-Benz launched the Electronic Stability Program ESP® in the 140-series S-Class Coupé in 1995, gradually introducing it into all model series.
With this system Mercedes-Benz was the first automobile manufacturer to network active and passive safety features, further improving protection for vehicle occupants. In 2002 the PRE-SAFE® system opened up another chapter in the history of safety features. When developing these, Mercedes-Benz pays rigorous attention to what happens in real accidents, and to the findings from its in-house accident research. Innovative systems such as Active Lane Keeping Assist or ATTENTION ASSIST specifically address typical accident causes such as lane-changes and drowsiness.
A selection of milestones in Mercedes safety development
1939  Start of passenger car safety development
1959  World's first passenger safety body
1969  Foundation of the Mercedes-Benz accident research department
1978  Electronically controlled anti-lock braking system (ABS)
1981  Pyrotechnical airbag, belt tensioner
1989  Automatically extending rollover bar
1995  Electronic Stability Program ESP®
1996  Brake Assist (BAS)
1998  DISTRONIC proximity control
1999  Active Body Control (ABC) suspension, tyre pressure monitoring system
2002  Preventive occupant protection system PRE-SAFE®
2003  Active light function
2005  DISTRONIC PLUS, Brake Assist Plus (BAS PLUS), Night View Assist
2006  PRE-SAFE® Brake, Intelligent Light System (ILS)
2009  Speed Limit Assist, Lane Keeping Assist, Blind Spot Assist, ATTENTION ASSIST drowsiness detection
2010  Active Lane Keeping Assist, Active Blind Spot Assist LED High Performance headlamps
Ride comfort: a classic strength of Mercedes-Benz
Ride comfort is a classic strength of Mercedes-Benz. Wide track, long wheelbase and chassis systems that are tailored to each vehicle concept – for over a century now, this has been the recipe used by Mercedes-Benz to achieve the long-distance driving comfort the brand is renowned for. Mercedes-Benz set an important milestone in chassis technology as early as 1931, with the 170 model: this was the first large-scale production passenger car to feature independent suspension for all four wheels ("swing axles"). This construction produces a completely new driving sensation, which filters out bumps in the road surface far more effectively and increases ride comfort.
Mercedes-Benz has continuously set an example with trailblazing designs: 1954 saw the introduction of the single-line swing axle, and 1968 the diagonal swing axle. Both designs combined improved handling safety with a further increase in ride comfort. And as early as 1961, the first air suspension in the 300 SE luxury saloon set new standards. The multi-link independent rear suspension in the new compact class that appeared in late 1982 was a technical sensation. The individually suspended rear wheels each have five independently arranged links for optimum control of their movement. The multi-link independent rear suspension was later introduced into all Mercedes-Benz saloons, coupés, cabriolets and sports cars with rear-wheel drive, and many other manufacturers model their own concepts on it.
AIRMATIC: air suspension for even more refinement
In 1998 yet another technological milestone makes its debut in the S-Class: the classic suspension and damping system with coil springs and gas-filled struts gave way to the newly developed, electronically regulated AIRMATIC (Adaptive Intelligent Ride control) system featuring air suspension and the Adaptive Damping System ADS. The self-levelling control which works for each wheel individually also forms part of AIRMATIC. It adapts to the condition of the road surface, driving style and vehicle load to guarantee supreme ride comfort.
One of the most important innovations in the recent past has been the world's first actively controlled suspension system - Active Body Control ABC - which Mercedes-Benz presented in 1991 in the C112 research vehicle and launched in the CL-Coupé in 1999. This actively controlled system reduces body vibrations caused by rolling and pitching movements when cornering or braking. 2007 saw the debut of the ADVANCED AGILITY package in the new C-Class. This offers a choice of two transmission modes: Sport and Comfort. In each of these modes there is variable electronic control of the shock absorber at each wheel.
PRE-SCAN: "flying carpet" on four wheels
Also in 2007, Mercedes-Benz presented the revolutionary PRE-SCAN suspension in the F 700 research vehicle. This system is able to recognise the condition of the road surface ahead, respond very sensitively to bumps and absorb these even more effectively. As a result, the F 700 (almost) achieves the level of comfort of the legendary "flying carpet". The "eyes" of the PRE-SCAN suspension are two laser sensors in the headlamp units.
In autumn 2010 Mercedes-Benz presented MAGIC BODY CONTROL, a further development of this system, which is literally forward-looking: a highly sensitive stereo camera mounted on the windscreen above the rear-view mirror "observes" the road ahead of the vehicle from two different perspectives. This enables irregularities in the road surface to be recognised in even more detail. Fast onboard computers process all the data in real time and actuate the active ABC suspension, which enables the forces at each wheel to be separately regulated. This means that body movements can be compensated far more effectively than by today's conventional suspension systems.
Ease of operation: intelligent systems enhance driver-fitness safety
The principle of easy and intuitive vehicle control goes well back to the earliest years of the brand. As early as 1902, the new Mercedes models consolidated all the progress made with respect to ease of operation under the model designation "Mercedes Simplex". For Mercedes-Benz, comfort means far more than a cosy, high-quality interior. Instead all comfort features aim to sustain the driver's fitness and comprehensively reduce his workload with numerous coordinated measures. Ease of operation, ergonomics, climatisation, noise comfort, handling characteristics and many other factors influence driver-fitness safety, and therefore the driver's ability to pay attention to the traffic situation. Because only a relaxed driver is a safe driver.
Mercedes-Benz has been conducting research in this complex field of "driver-fitness safety" for many years, and systematically uses its findings to improve the models in series production. As a result, Mercedes drivers demonstrably remain fit and concentrated for longer. Examples of the advances made in this respect include the carefully structured and intuitively understandable operating and display concepts, as well as the intelligent driver assistance systems that turn the vehicle into a thinking partner for the person behind the wheel.
Design: spanning the divide between tradition and modernity
Mercedes-Benz design develops as an interplay between the company's traditions and a view to the future. The aesthetic appearance of the automobile was greatly influenced by the "Blitzen-Benz" presented in 1909, as the innovative design idiom of this record-breaking racing car followed aerodynamic principles for the first time, while exuding sheer dynamism.
While powerfully masculine, sculpted lines characterised the Mercedes-Benz models of the 1920s, design from the early 30s onwards began to focus more on softer, flowing lines and more rounded styling elements. An absolute highlight of this development was the Type 500 K of 1934 and its largely identical successor, the 540 K, introduced in 1936. With their precisely formed contours and elegant, flowing lines they are regarded as objects of outstanding beauty.
1953: into the modern age of automotive design
In 1953 Mercedes-Benz completed the transition into the modern age with the model 180. This saloon was characterised by its so-called three-box design. The third "box", after the front end and passenger compartment, was the boot. The all-enveloping "Ponton" body was not only a convincing blend of improved stability and better safety in the event of an accident, it also had a much more contemporary look. Compared with the classic shape involving pronounced wings, free-standing headlamps, running boards and a short rear overhang, the Ponton models also offered the very practical advantages of a more spacious interior, better visibility, lower drag coefficient, less wind noise and a significantly larger boot.
Many outstanding Mercedes-Benz models have left their lasting mark on the
development of automotive design. Often described as a design icon, the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL "Gullwing" embodied elegance and class after the Second World War like no other car of its age. Even today, it is still a highly desirable car and was voted "Sports car of the Century" by an international jury of automotive experts in 1999. The 300 SL was the first roadgoing Mercedes-Benz to feature a horizontal air intake aperture with the star in the middle. This new front end has been a feature of all subsequent SL touring sports cars.
The 220, 220 S and 220 SE models introduced in 1959, which became known in popular parlance as "Fintail" models, also set a new benchmark with a design that united function and elegance in peerless style. The tail fins, officially described
as rear markers, were both attractive in design and also of practical use when parking. Together with the car's excellent all-round visibility, they represented an early anticipation of changing customer expectations.
Long-established styling features of the brand combined with new ideas
As a very typical way of expressing their unmistakable brand identity, current Mercedes-Benz vehicles often take their stylistic cues from the brand's past. Such features include the curving "hips" of the current E-Class family, characteristic of the Ponton vehicles of the 1950s; or the fins and side air intakes of the SL, whose basic shape also dates back to the 1950s. These classic elements are however always reinterpreted with a fresh and contemporary twist that enables Mercedes-Benz very consciously and consistently to avoid the foibles of ultra-fashionable and often short-lived retro-trends. Instead Mercedes-Benz designers emphasise that their new models come from a company with long traditions, by combining long-established styling features of the brand with new ideas to continuously develop the design further.
Mercedes-Benz follows a long-term design strategy which ensures that a Mercedes is always recognisable as a Mercedes. The designers in turn follow a consciously differentiated design idiom. This combines the unifying elements that make a vehicle immediately recognisable as a Mercedes-Benz with an interpretation of the design philosophy specific to each model series, so ensuring that each vehicle type has a character of its own. The SUV models, for instance, look quite different from the saloons, coupés or sports cars. The result is an attractive blend of individual look and unmistakable brand identity.
This principle is also valid as far as the interior design is concerned, and is
consistently applied at Mercedes-Benz. Depending on the character of the vehicle, materials, shapes and styling elements are developed and implemented for a specific series or model - individuality and a harmonious overall effect take clear priority over an all-embracing uniformity. The role of interior design, which continues to grow in significance in terms of the overall design task, is now even more important than ever as a way of maintaining the fascination of the beautiful over many years. The interior of a car is seen as a living space, where its owner will spend considerable amounts of time.
Reinterpretation of the classic Mercedes-Benz design idiom
An outlook on the future design idiom at Mercedes-Benz is provided by the F800 Style research vehicle, which is both a technology platform and a design statement. Its external appearance is characterised by a long wheelbase, short body overhangs and a sensual, flowing roofline. The dramatic, coupé-like side aspect and balanced proportions make for a stylish and sporty presence as a further development of the Mercedes-Benz design idiom.
Scope for creative thinking
Creativity has been writ large at Mercedes-Benz for 125 years. German engineering expertise and Swabian ingenuity have created a design icon of global importance. The company encourages creativity by providing scope for free thinking and actions. This is to ensure that the source of its innovative strength never dries up.
To maintain its lead in innovation, the company has established a worldwide knowledge network to which research and development personnel contribute their expertise in a wide variety of disciplines. Last year the company was once again the premium manufacturer with the most new patent applications. More than half of the 2070 new developments concerned involve "green" technologies, no less than 720 of them in the powertrain sector (35 percent). Particularly significant progress has been made in energy efficiency, exhaust gas aftertreatment and fuel cell/battery technology. With continuing, major investments in research and development, the company is creating the conditions that will enable it to maintain this high level of innovation into the long-term future.
Mercedes-Benz: the world's most valuable luxury brand
Thanks to its concerted innovation strategy, Mercedes-Benz has a top ranking amongst the world's most valuable brands. This is shown by recent international studies which have confirmed the exceptional status of the Mercedes star with three accolades: "Most valuable German brand", "World's most valuable premium automobile brand" and "World's most valuable luxury brand" in general.
"The best or nothing" – yesterday, today and in the future
It was Carl Benz who once said: "The love of invention never ceases." And it was Gottlieb Daimler who formulated the famous maxim "The best or nothing". Mercedes-Benz has now been following these guiding themes for 125 years. Innovative spirit is firmly established as one of the driving forces in our corporate culture – always with the aim of ensuring individual mobility for future generations and offering customers the best possible vehicles for their personal needs. The basis for this innovative strength is the systematic research work conducted by Mercedes-Benz, which in the early 1970s culminated in the foundation of the corporate research division. Today Mercedes-Benz is able to call on a global knowledge network employing around 19,000 researchers and developers – an inter-disciplinary "think-tank" replete with pioneering spirit, expertise and motivation, so as to continue building the best cars in the world into the future.