Alex Kreetzer joins Sajjad Khan, Vice President of Digital Vehicle and Mobility at Daimler, to discuss the automotive industry’s digitalised future.

Mr. Khan, as Vice President of Digital Vehicle & Mobility at Daimler, I guess it’s all about digitalisation, right?

Yes, but… Digitalisation has to be more than a buzzword. It is not just about bringing the internet into the car or giving your car a MAC or IP address. If we want to be successful, we have to shorten the time between having an innovative idea and bringing this idea into our products. I2P, idea to product, is one key success factor in the field of Digital Vehicle & Mobility. And we already implemented new ways to be benchmark at I2P.

Can you give an example?

It used to take us 12 months to develop new software. Now we need three to four months. And we're able to bring additional digital services into the car after purchase, via over-the-air updates for the head-unit and the car’s infotainment system. No need for our customers to go to the dealer or to visit a garage. That is real added value for our customers based on digitalisation and innovation.

If the customer does not have to go to the garage anymore just to receive a software update, this means they are saving quite a bit of time, right?

Exactly. And this is just where the ‘time machine’ starts. Every day has 24 hours. Time is limited. So, one of your aims at Mercedes-Benz is gaining quality time for our customers. Every minute in a traffic jam or while you are searching for a parking space is lost time. If we can shorten the time searching for a parking space for only five minutes a day – our customers will save over 30 hours a year. This means more than one complete day of quality time for family or friends.

Connected cars are getting updates over the air now, but many customers will be afraid of hackers. What is Mercedes-Benz doing in the field of cybersecurity?

The car of the future will turn increasingly into a digital companion, which at the same time means it must not only be perfectly safe to operate out on the road, but keep data secure as well. All Mercedes-Benz vehicles have extensive security and anti-theft systems. Data security, data privacy and anti-theft protection are important elements of our research and development activities. The development of protection and security mechanisms continues for the entire lifecycle of a vehicle. When advancing our protection mechanisms, we take into account the latest know-how regarding criminal methods and attacks on security systems. Nevertheless, there is no absolute 100% security. But we develop our systems to ensure they are state of the art – certified by in-house and third-party experts – and continuously work on further advancing all components.

So, there is a lot of change going on in the automotive industry. Not only in the field of digitalisation or connectivity, but also in other fields of mobility. How does Daimler deal with the new challenges? What is the company’s strategic approach?

Our answer is: CASE – these letters will shape the future of Mercedes-Benz Cars. They stand for the strategic pillars of connectivity (Connected), autonomous driving (Autonomous), flexible use (Shared & Services) and electric drive systems (Electric), which will be intelligently combined with one another by the company. Mercedes-Benz Cars already plays a leading role in all four areas. For example, all activities in the area of connectivity are focused on the digital brand Mercedes me, which gives customers access to an extensive and personalised range of services by app, website or straight from their car. On the way to autonomous driving, Mercedes-Benz has for years been a key driver of development and has repeatedly set the benchmark. To this end, the Mercedes engineers use what is known as sensor fusion. The data from different sensors, such as cameras, ultrasound and radar, are intelligently combined and analysed. When it comes to sharing, the inventor of the car is a pioneer with car2go. With some two million users, the company is the world's biggest provider in the area of free-floating car-sharing. Mercedes-Benz is pursuing a holistic approach regarding the electrification of the drivetrain. Apart from the EQ brand with a family of vehicles, Mercedes-Benz is also developing a holistic ecosystem which, alongside the vehicle itself, also comprises a comprehensive range of electric mobility-related offerings. This extends from intelligent services to energy storage units for private and commercial customers as well as charging technologies, such as inductive charging, to sustainable recycling. The activities are bundled in a new organisation in order to drive forward the development of all four pillars on an equal footing.

Sounds very impressive – and ambitious as well. Is the automotive industry ready for this?

We invented the car – so as you can see, thinking out of the box is part of our heritage. But seriously, you are right. There is a lot of change going on. And changing circumstances are quite challenging. Just to give you one example: when we talk about connected cars with new technologies, we also have to talk about a new structure of partners and suppliers. Nowadays we have to handle agile start-ups, small software-driven companies or even individuals with innovative ideas. And this is just one little part of the overall picture.

Mr. Khan, thank you for your time and the interesting insights.

My pleasure.

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