What Happens When Past Meets Future: The Mercedes-Simplex 40 HP and the Concept EQSeptember 8, 2017
Normally, the Silicon Valley offices at Mercedes-Benz Research and Development North America (MBRDNA) are rife with the latest technology, from hardware to software, because that’s our mission: to use leading-edge technology to harness the automotive ecosystem.
But recently, we were visited by the Mercedes-Benz Classic team from Stuttgart, who drove up from Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance to our offices in one of the oldest Mercedes vehicles still in existence — the 1902 Mercedes-Simplex 40 HP. We united this 115-year old internal combustion vehicle with the forward-looking, all-electric Concept EQ. Even though these vehicles are divided by a century of change and innovation, we discovered they vividly demonstrate the Mercedes-Benz brand DNA.
These cars are revolutionaries — and both are “milestones in our brand history,” as Gerhard Heidbrink, Manager Strategy and Topic Management at Mercedes-Benz Classic said in a conversation with Alex Hilliger, Sr. Manager Advanced Graphics & Rendering at MBRDNA, during a Facebook livestream. Both cars show an openness to using the latest technology to meet engineering challenges, and they do so with a strong sense of sport and flair. Typical of Mercedes-Benz, these cars seek to change the way we travel: The Mercedes-Simplex 40 HP was the first modern automobile; the Concept EQ is the future of mobility.
Mercedes-Simplex 40 HP’s Exhaust Note From Four Cylinders: Sound of the Future
After taking the Mercedes-Simplex for a spin around the perimeter of our facility in Silicon Valley, Heidbrink explained, “This car was a completely new concept for its day.” It took the internal-combustion engine — “then still a novel drive system,” and made it practical and efficient. It’s also the first car of the series to actually look like the cars we know today — previous to the Mercedes-Simplex, the automobile looked more like a motorized carriage.
The Mercedes-Simplex 40 HP is a nimble two-seat four-speed that’s lower to the ground than its contemporaries. It’s powerful and long, and has a lightweight engine fitted low in the frame. Its honeycomb radiator is integrated into the front end. The car also boasts a wider wheelbase than other vehicles from that era, which makes it both sportier and easier to handle.
While this 115-year-old car is one of the oldest-surviving vehicles of the Mercedes brand, a modern driver would quickly know how to operate it — perhaps after first getting distracted by its handsome brass fittings and general steampunk appeal. The car was given its name because it was simple to drive, and like every Mercedes-Benz that has since followed it, it’s intuitive but sophisticated. Though it dates from 1902, it has a proven top speed of just under 70 miles an hour. Even today, it drives well and easily.
This car shaped the development of all cars that followed, and thus “ensured the future of the automobile,” explained Heidbrink, and “established the shape and form of the car.” This became especially clear at the International Paris Auto Show in December 1902 when a majority of manufacturers who’d previously exhibited motorized carriages presented their latest cars. Only a year after the premiere of the Mercedes-Simplex 35 HP, these car manufacturers adopted the concept and form of the Mercedes-Simplex. In fact, the debt owed to this groundbreaking car was so obvious, the French automotive press referred to that year’s Paris Auto Show as the “Mercedes Show.”
“Emotions” and “Intelligence”: Concept EQ Drives the Future
One of the latest innovations from Mercedes-Benz is the Concept EQ — and just like the 115-year-old Simplex, it is also a pioneer of the new age of mobility. It reinvents the all-electric automobile. The Concept EQ is a new-generation electric vehicle made from an intelligent mixture of steel, aluminum and carbon fiber.
Hilliger demonstrated for Heidbrink just how modern the Concept EQ vehicle is: it takes the form of a sporty SUV coupe, but refines it with a new digital design idiom. This concept car is revolutionary inside and out, with muscular proportions, scarcely visible body panel joins, concealed windscreen wipers, cameras instead of exterior mirrors, and an absence of conventional door handles to emphasize its stretched, dynamic silhouette.
“We wanted to give a glimpse of the future of electric mobility,” said Hilliger to Heidbrink, who was impressed by the sophistication of the car’s interior, with its many touchscreens. As Heidbrink pointed out, the Mercedes-Simplex requires the drive to crank the vehicle before starting it. The EQ however has a range of 310 miles, a digital cockpit with an intuitive operating experience — along with the Mercedes-Benz hallmarks of safety, comfort, and aesthetics.
Future-focused, the Concept EQ is breaking barriers, but that’s nothing new for Mercedes-Benz, as seen with the Mercedes-Simplex from the early 1900’s. In both cases, the key to success is a comprehensive and systemically implemented design based on innovative technology — along with a thorough and fundamental rethinking of the automobile with the aim of creating the best vehicle for the customer.
“For me,” said Hilliger, “it’s very nice to see two milestone cars in one room.” Heidbrink added, while gesturing toward both cars, “It’s where we started… and where we’re heading.”
Both cars demonstrate the DNA of Mercedes-Benz: it lies in solution-oriented technology, implemented with an eye toward the future.
Watch this video of the Concept EQ.