Mercedes-Benz 300 SL (W 198 I series, 1954 to 1957), 1954

Economic miracle and return to the world market

1949 - 1960.

During the period from 1949 to 1960, in the fast-expanding German automotive industry Daimler-Benz AG succeeded in regaining the position it had enjoyed before the Second World War. As early as 1954 the company cracked the billion mark in terms of turnover and with that broke the existing sales record.

The high sales figures for all the cars of the Mercedes-Benz brand became a symbol of the German economic miracle.

The development of the commercial-vehicle division reflected the high growth rates of the economy overall. All trucks were equipped with diesel engines. Throughout the 1950s Daimler-Benz almost held a monopoly as manufacturer of diesel engines.

For exports the company had to rely on collaboration with independent general distributors. They handled imports and worked together with authorised dealers at their own risk.

This strategy was partly determined by the prohibition of foreign direct investment by German companies, which remained in force until 1952.

The company gradually pressed ahead with expansion of the European sales network in the period thereafter. In 1955 Daimler-Benz again maintained business relations with 178 general distributors worldwide. During this time, for its renewed internationalisation Daimler Benz relied almost exclusively on successes in motorsport which would refresh memories of the name Mercedes-Benz all over the world.

Mercedes-Benz model L 319 van, poster from 1961.

As for commercial vehicles, the spectrum was broadened and the range extended to everything from light van to heavy-duty truck. At the same time, the company pressed ahead with the internationalisation of production.

Particularly in Argentina, Brazil and India the governments pursued an active policy of industrialisation to build up local motor-vehicle production. To achieve this goal, the governments made the award of import licences conditional not only on the assembly of the vehicles in the country, but also on the procurement of an increasing percentage of the needed parts from local production.

In the wake of this development, Daimler-Benz established production plants inter alia in Iran (IDEM), in South Africa (UCDD), in Turkey (OTOMARSAN), in Argentina (Mercedes-Benz Argentina MBA), in Brazil (Mercedes-Benz do Brasil S.A. in Sao Bernardo do Campo) and in India (Telco).

The company was also able to expand the product range in the domestic production of commercial vehicles. The first new development of the post-war period to come out on the market was the Mercedes-Benz L 3250 in 1949, which was built in Mannheim. In addition, there was a surge in bus and coach production after the Federal Republic of Germany was founded in 1949; this was attributable to the growth of local public transport.

Assembling trucks at the Mannheim plant, Building 12, October 1954, model LA 3500.

The Unimog ("UNIversalMOtorGerät" = universal working machine), built by Daimler-Benz since 1951, achieved iconic status. This all-purpose vehicle, designed for agricultural use, had been built since 1949 by Gebr. Boehringer GmbH in Göppingen. The Unimog had already been publicly unveiled in August 1948. After Gebr. Boehringer GmbH was taken over by Daimler-Benz, Unimog production was transferred to Gaggenau in 1951.

Universally deployable Unimog 1950.

In passenger-car production, technically sophisticated, upmarket vehicles continued to be the focus of the Mercedes-Benz brand. Apart from a few completely-knocked-down (CKD) assembly operations, production of the vehicles took place in Germany alone.

New cars and successes in motorsport events, such as the Carrera Panamericana Mexico and Grand Prix racing, made Mercedes-Benz the best-known German brand.

The Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing, unveiled as a racing-car prototype in 1952, became the dream car of an entire generation and significantly enhanced the company’s reputation. Models like the Mercedes 300 (Adenauer Mercedes) were symbols of the reconstruction and the economic success of their owners.

The launch of the “tailfin Mercedes” in 1959 represented a milestone in the field of automotive safety. For the first time, the concept of front and rear crumple zones in conjunction with a rigid passenger compartment was implemented.

In the mid-1950s the demand for Mercedes-Benz cars exceeded the company's production possibilities. To ensure the necessary expansion of capacity, in 1958 the German automaker took over Auto-Union. The plan to additionally acquire Bayerische Motoren Werke AG in Munich was thwarted by the resistance of the small shareholders at the BMW annual shareholders' meeting at the end of 1959.

"February 6 to 14, 1954. International Motor Sports Show in New York. Presentation of Mercedes-Benz 190 SL and 300 SL sports cars."

The company’s rapid growth can be attributed not least of all to exports, despite the high absorptive capacity of the German market. Following the Second World War the Board of Management even gave exports priority over domestic sales. The increasing concentration on foreign markets led to foreign sales cracking the billion mark for the first time in 1959.

The most attractive export market was America, where Daimler-Benz of North America Inc. was set up in 1955.

The breakthrough in the US market was achieved together with American car dealer Maximilian E. Hoffmann. The 300 SL Gullwing and the 190 SL were successfully launched on the American market with his help.