Daimler's new r&d boss, Ola Kaellenius, believes the auto industry is at a major crossroads as megatrends such as connectivity, autonomous drive, shared services and electrification combine to shape the future market. The Swedish executive succeeded Daimler's long-serving r&d chief, Thomas Weber, in January and is considered a front-runner to succeed CEO Dieter Zetsche when his contract expires in 2019. Kaellenius has worked at Daimler since 1993. He is the former head of sales at Mercedes-Benz Cars and has also headed the company’s AMG performance unit. He recently spoke with Automotive News Europe Associate Publisher and Editor Luca Ciferri.
Do you believe the automotive industry is at a crossroads?
Yes, we are in the middle of a transformation process. There are four technical megatrends shaping this transformation, we call them CASE, which is short for connectivity, autonomous drive, shared services and electrification. The breakthroughs that we have had in the last few years will lead to an actualization of these trends in the next five to 10 years and this could change the face of the auto industry.
Does Daimler expect to benefit from these trends?
We're in a strong position on every one and we are putting further resources into them to make sure Daimler remains one of the leading companies in the future.
What advantage does the diesel still offer in Europe?
On the CO2 side, you have a 15 to 20 percent advantage, which is huge. I'm sure there will be more to come with greatly enhanced emissions performance. That's the nature of innovation and evolution. Until 2020 and beyond, it will be crucially important to have the diesel in the mix because this is not a one-discipline game. It's a decathlon. You have to be good at a lot of different things. We see the diesel continuing to have a strong presence in Europe in the coming years. Yes, there is an increasing cost, but the cost of electrification and plug in hybrids is not negligible. Although there are certain different roads that lead us toward zero emissions, which is our ultimate goal, we will still have a combination of powertrains -- full electric, plug in hybrids, super modern gasoline and diesel engines -- for years to come.
Is your diesel share between 70 percent and 80 percent of European sales?
It's not quite that high overall, but there are markets where it is 70 percent to 80 percent and markets in the 50 percent range.
Do you see this going down by 2020 and if so by how much?
If we look at what we have experienced in the European market over the last couple of years, we have had no drop in diesel sales and the diesel share has stayed stable. On the new E class that new diesel engine has a very high take rate in Europe. It shows that if you offer something that meets the customers' needs, and of course meets the more stringent emissions regulations and eventually the fuel economy regulations, the customer will decide on the most rational option.
Have you given up on diesels in the U.S. market?
We're looking at offering it on models where it makes sense and we'll continue to offer diesel where there is demand, but it's a very, very small niche in the U.S. I believe the U.S., as it's always been, will remain a gasoline-focused market.