The recent reveal of the Mercedes-Benz Concept CLA, a new model with eyebrow-raising efficiency stats that is clearly intended to take on the Tesla Model 3, marked the start of the next chapter in the firm’s ambitious electrification plans.
It’s the latest step in the German maker’s evolution from the company that invented the combustion engine to a zero-emission manufacturer. We caught up with Mercedes-Benz Cars boss Ola Källenius recently to hear his view on the brand’s heritage, Chinese rivals, electrification and autonomous driving.
How committed is Mercedes to electrification?
“The destination we’re travelling towards is zero-emission mobility, and we have absolute strategic clarity at Mercedes where we’re going with our decarbonisation strategy, Ambition 2039. Ten years before the [2050 objectives of the] Paris climate agreement, we want to decarbonise the whole value chain – suppliers, operations, the product and the product in use. We are investing double-digit billions of euros into new generations of EVs and new technology.
“That journey is a marathon, and not a sprint. It feels like running sprints [one after another] but the distance is a marathon. You cannot always expect a linear development in every market at every point in time. So into the next decade, we need tactical flexibility with regard to electrified high-tech ICE vehicles that we also offer. We’re in the very good position that our assembly plants are flexible between the two. But make no mistake: strategic clarity, technical flexibility.”
Are you worried about new Chinese EV rivals?
“In a transformation as big as this one, which is a technological and industrial transformation of Herculean size, it’s natural that new entrants will enter the market. That’s to be expected wherever they come from: the West, the East, Europe. Over the last decades, we have seen lots of arrivals into the European and US markets – the Japanese in the 1980s and ’90s, then the Koreans – so it’s natural that the Chinese want to go abroad.”