History of Mercedes-Benz Engineering Innovations
No look into the Mercedes-Benz brand would be complete without examining its various industry-leading innovations throughout the company’s 130-year history. Here are some of the most ground-breaking and advanced engineering developments the Mercedes-Benz brand has been responsible for since its humble beginnings.
1886: The First Patented Automobile
Carl Benz applied for the original patent for what is considered to be the first automobile on January 29th 1886. German patent number 37435 was officially listed as a “three-wheeled vehicle powered by a gas engine.” It would later go on to be referred to as the Benz Patent Motor Car model #1.
Carl Benz himself called the vehicle a “motorwagen” and described it as being self-propelled by a single-cylinder engine that was mounted in the back of the vehicle.
1900-1901: The New Mercedes-Benz 35 PS Model
The very first automobile to officially wear the Mercedes-Benz name was launched between 1900 and 1901 with a number of innovative technologies. The Mercedes-Benz 35 PS model was a modern car with a honeycomb radiator, aluminum engine, water-cooled brakes among other engineering features. The car’s design itself was steel-framed with a low-center of gravity, which would go on to be a signature look of the brand’s vehicles until the late 20th century.
1906: Introducing the Electric Car
Though today’s electric car may seem like a modern concept, it was actually an idea conceived in the early 1900’s and adopted by Mercedes-Benz for several of its vehicles. Personal cars, trucks, buses and fire response vehicles alike were built with battery-powered motors. This is considered by many to be an early ancestor of the hybrid vehicles we know today.
1910: First Multivalve Engine
In 1910, Mercedes-Benz released its Benz Special Touring Car. The vehicle was innovative at the time because it was the first ever automobile to have a multivalve engine. This multivalve engine design led to better fuel consumption and greater vehicle performance.
The Benz Special Touring Car was also dubbed the “Benz Prinz Heinrich Wagen” named after the prominent European automobile race the car participated in at the time. It is considered by many car experts and enthusiasts to be the world’s first sports car.
1921: Release of the Supercharged Engine
After the release of the Touring Car, Mercedes-Benz worked on perfecting a number of other automotive innovations including a twin-spark ignition and a six-cylinder engine. But in 1921, the company was responsible for another major breakthrough in automotive technology with the release of its first supercharged engine.
By pressurizing the fuel-air mixture, the power of several Mercedes cars was significantly improved with new engine compressor technology. This is also where the iconic Mercedes “Kompressor” name is derived from. These supercharged models were first displayed at the Berlin Motor Show in September of 1921 launching the “performance” category of the automotive industry.
In the years following, Mercedes-Benz would continue to develop supercharged engine technology and even release a line of diesel fuel trucks with compressed air injection.
1931: Development of 4-Wheel Independent Suspension
In 1931, Mercedes-Benz released its Mercedes 170 Model, which included a fully independent four-wheel suspension — the first of its kind. This technology allowed each wheel to respond individually from the rest of the suspension and included hydraulic braking systems. This innovation in automotive performance is what has set today’s benchmark in terms of vehicle safety.
1936: Release of the Diesel-Fueled Passenger Car
Mercedes released the first ever diesel-fueled passenger car in 1936 called the Mercedes Diesel Wagen 260 D. Until then, diesel fuel had been used virtually exclusively by trucks and service vehicles. But now, Mercedes would offer another option to the automotive consumer market in the form of a diesel car. It was released at that year’s Berlin Motor Show and would continue to be produced until 1940 when the Daimler Company was forced to devote its production capacities to military manufacturing.
1939: Prioritizing Passenger Safety
By 1939 it was clear that passenger vehicles would eventually become a commodity desired by and accessible to every household. With this vision in sight, it was now time for the company to shift its gears toward prioritizing passenger safety innovations. So Mercedes-Benz engineers, including lead engineer Bela Bareniy, began testing different safety models including rigid flooring, side-impact panel protection and a collapsible three-part steering column.
1948: Featuring Electric Powered Windows
A lot of us have not too distant memories of our vehicle’s manual windows we had to crank with a handle to roll them down. But, electric powered windows are not a new invention by any means. In 1948, Mercedes-Benz introduced the first style of electric powered windows in their passenger vehicles.
1949: Introducing Conical-Pin Door Locks
With the motive of continued automobile performance and safety improvements, the Daimler Company launched a new feature known as the conical-pin door lock. The first technology of the like, this door lock was intended to prevent car doors from opening during an accident. The Mercedes-Benz brand patented this new strong lock technology in 1949.
1951: Crumple Zone Safety Innovation
The safety engineering feats of Bela Bareniy continued in 1951 when Mercedes-Benz developed the first rigid vehicle passenger cell with defined deformation areas for additional safety on impact. In 1952, patent number 854157 was granted to Mercedes-Benz for crumple zone technology — an innovation used as a standard in today’s automobile manufacturing. Crumple zones allow the outer panels of the vehicle to absorb the energy from a crash impact while keeping the interior cabin rigid and thus protecting the passengers inside.
1954: Designing the Gullwing Door
While Mercedes-Benz was driven by performance and safety innovations, by 1954, they would also demonstrate their creativity in design and aesthetic. The Mercedes-Benz 300 SL model featured the iconic Gullwing doors that today are still associated with luxury and modern design. The car manufacturer went on to produce 1,400 of these 300 SL models from 1954 until 1957.
1958: Implementation of Crash Test Program
By 1958, passenger safety had become such a top priority that Mercedes-Benz began to implement a rigorous crash test program that all vehicles would have to undergo. The company’s main focus was to use the crash testing regimen as a critical learning tool to teach the engineers how to improve safety standards.
Though the program was initially conducted outdoors, eventually the program would go on to incorporate much more sophisticated facilities. By 1959, the company had begun to conduct full impact tests, including those that assessed total roll-overs. This same year, Mercedes-Benz released tail-fin models with the world’s first safety bodies that included crumple zones.
1963: Automatic Transmission With Gated Shifter
By now, Mercedes-Benz was seen as a leader when it came to setting industry standards. In 1963, Mercedes-Benz released their first SL model with an automatic transmission. The transmission shifter had a notched design that allowed the driver to select each of the four gears without the use of a pushbutton release. This same design is still the standard of automatic transmissions today.
1966 – 1973: Furthering Safety Innovation
Mercedes-Benz as a brand had the foresight to know just how important safety would be to the consumer market. They realized that customers would be willing to pay more for features that were near-guaranteed to protect drivers and their passengers in case of an accident.
With this in mind, the car manufacturer began developing and introducing all kinds of safety features such as a safety steering system, a three-point seatbelt and the testing of airbag systems. By 1969, Mercedes-Benz had founded its very own Accident Research Department, which was responsible for analyzing accidents and creating new innovations from its findings.
By 1971, the Experimental Safety Vehicle program was launched, which included inertia-reel seatbelts as well as seatbelt limiters and tensioners. It also included fully operational driver and passenger airbags. The year 1973 saw the implementation of the Mercedes-Benz offset frontal crash testing program. This “partial-overlap” barrier crash test was designed to more accurately simulate a real-life potential collision.
In 1973, Mercedes-Benz also introduced safety head restraints as well as the first child safety and restraint systems.
1974: The First 5-Cylinder Engine
In 1974, Mercedes-Benz achieved another world’s first when it released its 240 D 3.0 model. This turbodiesel vehicle was the first 5-cylinder engine and was the fastest diesel car of its time. It accelerated from 0 to 62 mph in 19.9 seconds, reaching 92 mph as its top speed.
This model was also particularly innovative because it was the first of its kind to be started by turning a key. Previously, the practice was to pull a lever instead.
1978: Antilock Braking Systems Come to Fruition
Though the concept had been worked on for a nearly a decade, Antilock Braking Systems weren’t fully developed and put into practice until 1978. Antilock Braking Systems, better known as ABS, were a breakthrough invention in safety and are, of course, still standard today.
ABS allows the driver to retain control over the vehicle’s steering even when under sudden and heavy braking. Essentially, ABS prevent the wheel from locking up, which was an absolutely critical breakthrough for current and future safety feature developments.
1982: Multilink Suspension Breakthrough
The compact 190-Class Mercedes-Benz debuted in 1982. This car was known for its precision handling and smooth ride as well as its active safety features. This was all thanks to the breakthrough technology of a 5-arm rear suspension also known as multilink suspension.
1985: Debut of 4MATIC All Wheel Drive
In 1985, Mercedes-Benz launched their E-class series with All Wheel Drive (AWD). Marketed under the name 4MATIC, the AWD system of Mercedes-Benz was revolutionary in its time and is still a heavily sought-after feature in today’s marketplace.
Mercedes-Benz also launched two different types of electronic traction systems for its rear-wheel drive vehicles. One was the automatic differential lock (know as ASD) and the automatic skid control (known as ASR).
In the same year, the Electronic powershift (EPS) was also added to all Mercedes-Benz trucks as a standard feature.
1991: Mercedes-Benz Goes CFC-Free
In the early 90’s, studies were indicating that Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) had serious consequences for human health and the environment. One VOC chemical, called Chlorofluorocarbon (CFC), was used in countless manufactured products, including vehicles. As a result, Mercedes-Benz created new health standards for their products by removing CFC’s from their climate control as well as from the entire vehicle manufacturing process.
Mercedes-Benz was the first automaker to make the commitment toward eliminating environmentally dangerous chemicals, an initiative that is continued today within the company’s operations.
1992: Controller-Area Network Technology Unveiled
Mercedes-Benz developed and unveiled their advanced Controller Area Network (CAN) which is electronic technology that allows microcontrollers and other vehicle devices to communicate with each other. The purpose of the CAN is to provide more precise vehicle control and higher performance of different vehicle features.
1995: Release of Electronic Stability Program (ESP)
Another advanced safety breakthrough came in 1955 when Mercedes-Benz launched its Electronic Stability Program (ESP) on its newest vehicles. ESP is designed to help the vehicle maintain control around sharp corners and during sudden or evasive maneuvers. Considered to be the most important development in vehicle safety since the airbag, ESP is now mandatory on all vehicles.
ESP is also sometimes called Electronic Safety Control (ESC) or Dynamic Stability Control (DSC), but it always refers to the computerized system that detects a vehicle’s reduction or loss of traction to improve stability.
1997: Introducing SmartKey Technology
In response to consumer demand for more convenience and luxury features, Mercedes-Benz launched their SmartKey technology. SmatKey is an innovative locking and anti-theft technology that uses an electronic code to unlock vehicle doors. This is as opposed to a standard mechanical lock that could be easily manipulated by thieves.
2000: Launch of Tele Aid Technology
Tele Aid was released by Mercedes-Benz in 2000 as a built-in suite of safety, communications and navigation technology system. Tele Aid was later renamed mbrace®, and it allowed Mercedes-Benz drivers to connect directly to Mercedes-Benz Customer Assistance through their devices or through the vehicle itself.
By 2012, a second version of the system called mbrace2® included Internet access within the vehicle, including apps and other remote in-car features. This allows drivers to navigate to addresses found on Yelp, Google or Facebook.
2002: PRE-SAFE® Achieves a Milestone in Driver Safety
Groundbreaking driver and passenger safety technology led to the development of Mercedes-Benz’s PRE-SAFE® system. Designed to prepare vehicle occupants for a potential accident, PRE-SAFE® detects and predicts imminent collision types. Examples of its features include tightening seat belts and adjusting front head restraints prior to impact to optimize all restraint and safety features.
2006: Release of DISTRONIC PLUS With PRE-SAFE® Brake
Further safety innovation took hold in 2006 when Mercedes-Benz released its DISTRONIC PLUS technology which senses stopped traffic ahead of the vehicle. DISTRONIC PLUS operates even while the car is on cruise control. It alerts the driver and begins to brake to reduce speed and potential impact.
2010: Launch of Driver Drowsiness Alerts With ATTENTION ASSIST
Another revolutionary driver safety technology called ATTENTION ASSIST was launched in 2010. ATTENTION ASSIST can detect the level of interaction that the driver has with the vehicle and determines if the driver has become drowsy. It does this through sensors that detect over 70 different parameters, including steering behavior. If the system detects a risk of driver drowsiness, it will alert the driver to take a break.
2016: Autonomous Driving Is a Reality
Mercedes-Benz today is one of the industry leaders in driverless technology. The Mercedes-Benz F 015 is the “Luxury in Motion” research vehicle — an autonomous vehicle designed to literally drive itself. The concept allows passengers to lounge in the luxury, convenience and connectivity of the vehicle without having to actively drive the car. The F 015 is expected to lead the way when it comes to the future of road travel.