A Saul Aptekar Contribution:

The life cycle of the Mercedes



The origin of the company dates back to the 1880s, when Gottlieb Daimler and Karl Benz invented the internal combustion engine-powered automobile independently, in southwestern Germany. Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach, who together invented the four-stroke engine, worked together in Cannstatt (a city district of Stuttgart); Benz had his shop in Mannheim near Heidelberg. There is no record of the two inventors ever having met.
In the early 1900s, the Daimler cars built at Untertürkheim (also a city district of Stuttgart) were raced successfully by an Austrian dealer named Emil Jellinek, who entered the cars under the name of his daughter, Mercédès.

After suggesting some design modifications, he promised the company a large order on the conditions that he was granted the exclusive Daimler concession for Austria-Hungary, France, Belgium and USA, and that he would sell the new model branded as "Mercedes". The name change was also helpful in preventing legal troubles, as Daimler had sold exclusive rights to the name and technical concepts to companies abroad. As a result, luxury cars known as Daimler were and are built in England. A fire that gutted the old Steinway piano factory in New York that had been converted to produce Mercedes cars cut short the dream of an American-built Mercedes.

The rival companies of Daimler Motorengesellschaft and Benz & Cie. started to cooperate in the 1920s to deal with the economic crisis of those years, and finally merged in 1926 to become the Daimler-Benz AG, which produced Mercedes-Benz cars and trucks. While focusing on land vehicles, Mercedes-Benz also built engines to power boats and airplanes (military and civil), and even Zeppelins.

During the Second World War, Mercedes-Benz is known to have exploited more than 30 000 forced workers and prisoners of war, some of whom would eventually strike and be sent to concentration camps. This working force soon became essential to the production capacity of the company since 1941, and was a key to the construction of Nazi Germany's Luftwaffe and war machine.

Mercedes-Benz vehicles have a focus on high quality and state of the art engineering. As a result they have often been expensive and are made in lower volumes compared to cheaper cars. The company has carefully cultivated an image of superior engineering, quality, and service. The cars are often the vehicle of choice for the rich and famous. Perhaps most famous for limousine models, a number of notable sports cars have also been produced. For example, the early supercharged SSK developed by Porsche, and the Gullwing 300SL in 1954. However, Mercedes-Benz has also produced higher volume, less expensive cars. Interestingly, the prototypes of the Volkswagen were built and tested in Stuttgart, in cooperation with Porsche. Before that, Mercedes-Benz also had a similar rear-engined, yet rather unsuccessful small car, the 130 H.

Their products have been known for the introduction of advanced technologies to cars—notably fuel injection and anti-lock braking systems, amongst many others. However, it does not always work: recently, an active brake system installed in over 600,000 cars has been recalled to fix potential problems. In addition, the brand's reputation of reliability has been called into question when it was recently ranked rather low in consumer surveys. To address the problem, the company invested heavily in recent years to stem the problem.