Interview with Ola Källenius: “At least one electrified alternative in every model series”

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Since the beginning of this year Ola Källenius, 48, has been responsible for Group Research at Daimler AG and Mercedes-Benz Cars Development. We spoke to him about the drive strategy.

Mr Källenius, with the electrically driven studies Mercedes-Benz EQA and smart vision EQ, Mercedes-Benz Cars is sending clear signals on purely electric mobility. Is this the new silver bullet?

Källenius: a crucial milestone on the road, but not the only one. Please let’s not forget our plug-in hybrids: both the new S 560 e, the GLC F-CELL with a fuel cell drive system and the performance hybrid study Mercedes-AMG Project ONE use electricity from the power socket, but not exclusively. We call it EQ Power. In future we shall continue to extend our plug-in hybrid portfolio systematically. But that is not all. With the launch of the 48-volt on-board electrical system in combination with starter generators we are now launching electrical drive system components on a broad front and thus continually enhancing the efficiency of our combustion engines.

So it is still the case that the drive system strategy is based on several cornerstones?

Källenius: Yes, on the road to emission-free driving we are continuing to pursue a three-lane drive system strategy: we are focusing on highly efficient high-tech combustion engines, systematic hybridisation and battery-electric or fuel cell drive. We are quite consciously establishing ourselves on a broad basis in view of our extensive vehicle portfolio and the mobility requirements of our customers.

So time is not up for the combustion engines?

Källenius: I’m sure that the combustion engines will still be around for a long time to come. In the year 2025 we are looking at a sales share of up to 25 percent for the purely battery-electric cars. This automatically means that at least 75 percent will still have a combustion engine on board – also combined with electric, naturally.

So the combustion engines also benefit from electrification?

Källenius: Precisely, our new S-Class is a case in point: here we have just launched a six-cylinder in-line engine with an integrated starter generator. So we have made a huge leap where driveability, performance and consumption are concerned. Incidentally we are the only car manufacturer currently offering this type of integrated starter generator with 48-volt technology as standard. We are gradually introducing the 48-volt technology to the entire portfolio – the next step will be in the four-cylinder with our E-Class later this year.

Will the diesel be discontinued?

Källenius: Definitely not, we still need the diesel and in future we shall continue to advance its further development. It has an advantage regarding CO2 emissions and this source of power is still relevant in goods transport, as well as in numerous markets, above all in Europe. With our newly developed premium diesel family we have proven that diesel can be clean.

smart is planning to convert its model range entirely to electric drive by 2020 in Europe and the USA. When will the corresponding battery-electric models from Mercedes-Benz follow?

Källenius: All the signals are on green here now. With our new product and technology brand EQ not only are we starting a purely electric model initiative; we are also gradually establishing an electro-mobile ecosystem which includes the necessary charging infrastructure. We are investing more than ten billion euros in the expansion of our EQ vehicle portfolio alone.

And when will things get started with the first EQ model in concrete terms?

Källenius: The first half of 2019 will initially see the launch of the EQ SUV, which we will be calling the EQC.

But the EQC is just the start of the electric initiative, isn’t it?

Källenius: By 2022 we will have launched a total of more than ten purely electrically driven vehicles. Over and above this we shall electrify the entire Mercedes-Benz portfolio and thus offer our customers at least one electrified alternative in every Mercedes-Benz model series, over 50 in all. We offer the customer the choice – depending on their individual preference and needs.

How does this strategy fit with the fuel cell?

Källenius: The fuel cell is and remains an interesting technology on the road to zero emissions. The GLC F-CELL is an integral part of our electric initiative. With the world premiere of the pre-series vehicles we have just recently taken a major step. Market launch is planned for next year. The high range thanks to the combination of the fuel cell and battery, short charging times and the everyday suitability of an SUV will make it the ideal companion. A real Mercedes – purely electric!

On which platform will the EQ vehicles be based?

Källenius: Our modular system is the basis for our electrification strategy. This enables us to create a cross-model electric vehicle architecture for our EQ vehicle family, and in every respect it is scalable and can be used flexibly. Incidentally, this does not just apply to the passenger car models: in the electrification of the Sprinter and Vito our colleagues from Mercedes-Benz Vans are also using the Mercedes-Benz Cars modular system.

And what about the batteries?

Källenius: Everything is pointing to growth here. Daimler is investing more than one billion euros in establishing a coordinated global battery production network. With an investment of around 500 million euros this includes the construction of a second factory for batteries at our subsidiary Accumotive in Kamenz (Saxony). Plus there are further sites in Stuttgart-Untertürkheim, Beijing and Alabama. In total we are aiming for a production capacity of one million batteries per annum.

And technologically?

Källenius: Initially we will stay with the lithium-ion technology. In the coming years there will be further evolutionary increases in performance. But if a 10, 20 or even 30 percent increase in performance could be achieved, this would be quite something. Bigger leaps still are possible with the launch of post-lithium-ion technology, for example lithium-sulphur or solid-state batteries, but from today’s perspective not within the next five years.

What about charging, without the appropriate infrastructure, electric mobility will hardly be able to achieve a breakthrough…

Källenius: It’s no question that we are thinking in terms of intelligently networked charging solutions right from the outset, because customer acceptance is closely linked to the availability of an appropriate infrastructure. We want to make our customer a holistic premium offer in the field of electric mobility. Whether that’s for charging at home, at work, on the road or ultra-fast: we are taking a close look at all scenarios and positioning ourselves on a broad basis with selected partnerships and co-operations. Together with BMW, Ford and the Volkswagen Group, for example, we are working in a joint venture on setting up the most powerful charging network at major European transport axes.

Biographical details:

Since 1 January 2015 Ola Källenius has been a Board Member of Daimler AG and since 1 January 2017 he has been responsible for Group Research and Mercedes-Benz Cars Development.

Ola Källenius was born on 11 June 1969 in Västervik, Sweden. After his school education and high school grad. cert. at the Grammar School in Danderyd (Sweden) he took Masters degrees in International Management and Finance and Accounting from 1988 to 1993 at the Stockholm School of Economics (Sweden) and at the University of St. Gallen (Switzerland). In 1993 he joined the international Management Associate Programme of the then Daimler-Benz AG.