EDITOR'S NOTE: This article is from the "Redesigning the Industry" series by Automotive News, a sister publication of Automotive News Europe. The series looks at how the industry is being reshaped with the entry of disruptive innovators such as Google's Waymo in autonomous driving, Uber in ride-hailing and Amazon in retailing. It examines how traditional auto companies are responding to the challenges. For the full series, click here.
Daimler's original vision for its Smart brand — tiny cars beloved by consumers who prioritize fuel efficiency above all else — failed to pan out.
The new vision for Smart speaks to how much new demands of electrification and autonomy are revamping corporate strategies, even for a longtime technology leader such as Daimler.
This time, Daimler is refocusing Smart by dropping gasoline-powered models and incorporating the brand into a broad corporate strategy to offer electric vehicles of all shapes and sizes.
The move could result in even fewer consumers buying Smart cars. Instead, Daimler imagines Smart helping people get around in self-driving cars that would be shared rather than privately owned.
A concept car called the Smart Vision EQ ForTwo, unveiled in September at the Frankfurt auto show, achieves Level 5 autonomy, with no steering wheel or pedals. Consumers can use a smartphone to hail the car, which has an electronic panel in place of the grille on which it displays information about where it's going and who it's picking up.
"It is the most radical car-sharing concept car of all," Smart CEO Annette Winkler said in unveiling the car. "Fully autonomous, with maximum communication capabilities, friendly, comprehensively personalizable and, of course, electric."
Of course, because electrification is the foundation of Daimler's plans to protect against obsolescence.
It's pouring $11 billion into EV development and expects as much as a quarter of its global sales to be EVs by 2025 — when it projects that the cost of a conventional powertrain will surpass that of a battery-powered system. The company says its modular EV architecture can be scaled in a variety of ways to produce SUVs, sedans, coupes, convertibles and other styles.
From 2019 through 2022, Daimler plans to launch 10 EVs under a new Mercedes-Benz subbrand it's calling EQ (a variation of IQ meant to represent "electric intelligence").
It showed a vehicle called Concept EQ at last year's Paris auto show and a compact car concept, the EQA, this year in Frankfurt.
In addition to the vehicles themselves, EQ will include a number of transportation services and ancillary products, including charging stations and home solar-energy storage units.
"The mobility of the future at Mercedes-Benz will stand on four pillars: connected, autonomous, shared and electric. Concept EQ is the logical fusion of all four pillars," said Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche. "The emission-free automobile is the future. And our new EQ brand goes far beyond electric vehicles. EQ stands for a comprehensive electric ecosystem of services, technologies and innovations."