Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche says there are three keys to Mercedes-Benz's global success, which has put it in position to finish 2016 as the world's No. 1 premium carmaker. He shared those while also explaining why he's bullish about electric cars, autonomous vehicles and the diesel engine in a recent interview with Automotive News Publisher and Editor Jason Stein, Automotive News Europe Editor Luca Ciferri, Staff Reporters David Undercoffler and Ryan Beene, and Correspondent Christiaan Hetzner.
The last time we spoke, you said that becoming No. 1 in volume was not your final target but was a result of doing a good job. So the job you've done has been remarkable. You're reaching the target in advance of your original plan. What went particularly well?
There are certainly many elements to that, but probably the three most important elements I think are design, product portfolio and gaining a better understanding of China. These are the strongest levers, but definitely not the only ones.
How important has design been to your success?
Design is very high on my priority list. That's why I spend a lot of time in our design dome. Plus, I'm convinced that with Gorden Wagener [Daimler Senior Vice President of Design] we have probably the most talented and capable head of design.
Mercedes has regained ground in China. Are things OK there or does Mercedes still need to grow compared with its German competitors?
Well, based on growth rates in the high double-digits for a couple of years now, I would at least call that "OK." We are running more or less even with BMW on a monthly basis -- there are months where we are a few units ahead, others where they're a few units ahead. It's quite an accomplishment as we've come from a time when our volume was about half their volume. Ultimately, the main deficit was probably a lack of understanding of China. We've fixed that.
You said that by 2025, 15 to 25 percent of Mercedes' sales will be EVs. How will Daimler balance such a substantial investment in EVs with what it will need to spend on upgrading its internal combustion engines?
Of course, we have to continuously become more effective in our spending and we have to prioritize. But even if we are correct with that forecast that means, conversely, that 75 to 85 percent of our vehicles will still be combustion engine-driven, plus plug-in components. And if we are not totally competitive with these products the whole equation won't work. So we cannot slow investments in the latest technology in combustion engines, either. But that's the character of any transition into a new technology. And it doesn't end with electric cars.
What do you mean?
Whether it be autonomous vehicles, connectivity or car-sharing, you have to invest to be prepared for the future. But that’s exciting and that's the world as we know it today. To me these developments are not happening just for technology's sake but because you can offer something better to your customers, which ultimately is the basis for a company's future success. I'm bullish about these forthcoming changes.