Digitalisation and decarbonisation are the two biggest drivers of the sustainable transformation of Mercedes-Benz AG. Jasmin Eichler, Head of Future Technologies, and her team have an important role to play on this path. Every day they work on innovations that will bring us closer to our goal: a zero-emission fleet of new cars by 2039 at the latest. We spoke to Jasmin Eichler on the occasion of World Environment Day on 5th June. In the interview, she explains which sustainable solutions she is working on with her team, which project she is especially proud of and why she supports our commitment in "The Climate Pledge" initiative.
You have been head of the "Future Technologies" department for three years now. What does your everyday work look like and how much science fiction is in it?
Of course, we often come across science fiction. One example we are examining: Brain-Computer Interface, or BCI for short. This is about controlling functions or processes in the vehicle solely through the power of thoughts. We look at a lot of things, sometimes it's realizable and sometimes you just have to be honest and say that it will probably remain science fiction forever (laughs).
You could say that we take care of securing the future of the company - that's our job and we do it every day. We are a cross-sectional department and cross-functionally deal with topics that make our products more modern and innovative. Especially in the early phase of development, when the new series architectures are designed and the new contents for vehicle and software topics are defined. Here, our department is an anchor that examines new, innovative concepts around product and technology topics together with the specialist departments and provides holistic support in developing and bringing them into series production more quickly. The biggest drivers here are, of course, the topics of digitalisation and sustainability, especially resource conservation and innovations related to the reduction of CO₂.
To what extent does digitalisation contribute to more sustainability in automotive development?
Digitalisation is a difficult buzzword because there are different definitions, just as with the term sustainability, by the way. I like to split the term digitalisation into two categories: on the one hand, digital development processes, methods and tools, and on the other hand, the digital product. Both are very strong levers for more sustainability.
Regarding the first category: If, for example, we succeed in achieving a higher degree of maturity earlier in development by first mapping concepts digitally, we need less hardware and conserve resources. Here we can digitally simulate and integrate hardware patterns. If we then apply methods and tools to save weight and use sustainable materials, we can make a difference – and a significant contribution to sustainability.
Regarding the second category: If we are able to offer customers a new user experience again and again in the long term - without replacing hardware, but via software updates - we can be even more sustainable as it also reduces the consumption of resources.
It is often said that the car is becoming a smartphone on wheels. Do you agree with that?
I would confirm that. Even if a car is ultimately not a smartphone, but a vehicle that transports people, the basic principle between smartphone and car is becoming more and more similar: Cars have more and more functionalities or integrated interfaces with an overall software architecture and an operating system. These are very relevant points. With MB.OS for example, Mercedes-Benz is taking a crucial step towards the claim to lead in the field of vehicle software.
Certainly an elementary part of the Mercedes-Benz strategy. Why exactly this path?
135 years after our founding fathers invented the automobile and thus revolutionised the world to as how we know it today, our industry is facing the greatest transformation in its entire history. We follow two clear goals in Group research. Decarbonisation, i.e. CO₂-neutrality of the entire fleet of new passenger cars, and digitalisation. To achieve this, we have completely restructured our organisation and aligned everything towards this goal. We have ambitious goals. They should never scare us, but motivate us every day.
„The Climate Pledge“: Driving change
In 2019, Amazon and Global Optimism founded the climate protection initiative The Climate Pledge. The aim of the initiative: CO₂-neutrality of all signatory companies - ten years ahead of the target set in the Paris Climate Agreement. Mercedes-Benz AG has been a member since summer 2020. In the meantime, more than 100 companies
How important is cooperation with external partners?
Absolutely essential - even in the early stages. In the past, it was "not invented here" and a lot was rejected. Today, there is a new way of thinking. Implementing external ideas in a company is a great achievement. Many companies recognise that today. With the STARTUP AUTOBAHN
How many ideas actually make it into series development?
Our approach is extremely successful. More than 30 large companies have now joined the STARTUP AUTOBAHN. In the past five years we have been introduced to around 5,000 start-ups, we have launched pilot projects with 100. More than 20 ideas have made it into our products and services.
Which project are you particularly proud of?
I am proud of all our projects! One of them is definitely the electrically powered VISION EQXX. This is our technology programme, which we have been working on since last year. It represents the innovative strength of Mercedes-Benz and will continue to drive the transformation forward. The technical innovations of the VISION EQXX will soon find their way into production vehicles. We are creating a true electric efficiency champion! We have adjusted the entire car for this purpose. I look forward to sharing more about it soon.
Please complete …
A world without sustainable ideas is...
"...not an option."
Individual mobility and sustainability...
"...simply belong together today. Both are strong basic needs and we must succeed in creating a perspective that brings both together. This way, our customers do not have to decide against one of these aspects, but can choose both: individual mobility and sustainability."
My vision is...
"...to make the world safer, more connected and more sustainable. I work on this every day - together with colleagues, suppliers and cooperation partners. We are all working in the right place at the right time. We all have the opportunity to make a difference now, to really make a difference and be part of the solution."