Behind the scenes at Mercedes-Benz multi-million R&D center in China

Glen White
- Leadership - Nov 05, 2014

Daimler Greater China has opened a new state-of-the-art Mercedes-Benz Research & Development Centre in China and has extended its local R&D network. The new facility will house 500 highly qualified engineers and designers who will be working on new technology and product developments for luxury automaker Mercedes-Benz. In total, about 865 million RMB (112 million EUR) has been invested into the Beijing-based research and development facilities for Mercedes-Benz passenger cars, with about 105 million RMB (13.5 million EUR) into this new site alone, according to a press release from the company.

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“For the automotive industry, China has become the most important market worldwide. The country is truly in fast forward mode – we recognise this importance and reflect it in our local R&D activities, which we are clearly pushing forward to the next level,” says Hubertus Troska, Member of the Board of Management of Daimler AG responsible for China. “As a key element for our sustainable growth strategy in China, our new R&D Centre will help us to fully tap our potential here and give our Chinese customers’ voice even more weight in our global network and future product development.”

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“With our new R&D Centre in China, we are progressing our strategy of the internationalisation of our R&D, showing our full commitment and dedication to China, a key market for us,” says Prof. Dr. Thomas Weber, Member of the Board of Management of Daimler AG, responsible for Group Research and Mercedes-Benz Cars Development. “Establishing a close-knit and complementary network of R&D Centres across the globe will enable us to incorporate local taste, needs and trends into our products much faster, supporting our vision to become the world’s largest premium car manufacturer by the end of the decade.”

Continuous expansion of Chinese R&D activities

With the new location, Daimler is taking its Research and Development activities in China to a new level. The company first put China on the map of its worldwide Research & Development network in 2006 with the localization of the Mercedes-Benz E-Class. Since then, the scope of work and headcount of its local R&D teams has been continuously expanded.

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In 2009, Mercedes-Benz was the first German premium car manufacturer to open an Advanced Design Studio in Beijing. To better cater to the needs of Chinese customers, units for ’Localization & Development, ‘Telematics & Infotainment’ and, most recently, ‘Trends & Innovation’ have been established.

Today, international teams of more than 350 experts work for the Mercedes-Benz Chinese R&D headquarters, covering six different departments. Currently, 80 percent of the workforce is Chinese; the remaining team includes specialists from about a dozen different countries.

By the end of 2015, the automaker plans to increase the headcount to 500. Mercedes-Benz R&D China benefits from a close link to Daimler’s strong local production and supplier base as well as its Sino-German joint venture R&D sites for vans and electric vehicles.

Focus on the needs of the Chinese market

Apart from Advanced Design, there are five departments working for Mercedes-Benz Research & Development China in Beijing. The teams for Localization & Development and Powertrain & Testing adapt vehicles and engines to Chinese needs, take care of testing, and establish cooperation with local suppliers.

A unit for Safety, Comfort, Regulatory Affairs and IP makes sure the vehicles comply with all Chinese rules, regulations and standards. In addition, it does research on topics like in-car air quality and allergy prevention, and builds up ties with universities and other research organisations. One example is the collaboration with Tsinghua University, one of China’s leading universities, on the development of sustainable transport solutions, including autonomous driving. With these collaborations, Mercedes-Benz’ engineering team gets also access to a vast Chinese talent pool.

The Telematics and Infotainment team focuses on developing telematics and infotainment systems with Chinese requirements, and ensure quality for the systems in the lab and on the road. One task of the unit is to ensure customers can enter handwritten Chinese characters into the multi-media system of their Mercedes-Benz vehicles; another one is to integrate China-specific Apps and Internet services into the cars. Mercedes-Benz is the 1st automotive OEM that has teamed up with Baidu, the Chinese Google equivalent, to bring “Streetview” features into its Chinese vehicles.

The Trends, Research and Innovation department analyzes developments in Chinese society and their effects on future mobility needs. The mission is clear: On one hand, go deep into the daily lives of Chinese customers and translate their daily habits into clever product solutions and on the other, monitor trends early and react on these with the right future product concepts. The team gets its inspiration by various research and analysis methodologies - and sometimes by simply looking at Chinese customers’ cars.

State-of-the-art Mercedes-Benz Advanced Design Studio

The all-new Advanced Design Studio is a centerpiece of the R&D facility and represents the company’s new design hub in Asia. It is dedicated to offering Chinese customers an even more enjoyable Mercedes-Benz experience by putting new functions like ‘Colour & Trim’ and ‘User Interface Experience’ design on the company’s local design map. Fully equipped with state-of-the-art technology, it covers the widest field of action amongst Mercedes-Benz’s passenger car design studios outside of Germany: All necessary steps of car design can be done here – from first sketches to 1:1 clay models.

As a seismograph for design, cultural and mobility trends and as an integral part of Daimler’s global design network, the studio will generate creative inspirations from China, and incorporate these into Mercedes-Benz’ global design philosophy. A first glimpse of this interaction was given at the official opening when Gorden Wagener, Head of Design Daimler AG, presented the Mercedes-Benz G-Code, a sporty crossover show car inspired by the lifestyles and digital cultures of contemporary Chinese society.

Global research and development network

Group Research and Mercedes-Benz Cars Development employs a workforce of 21,100 at 21 facilities in 10 countries worldwide, with a total R&D investment of 10.8 billion Euros in 2013/2014. The company’s global R&D headquarters is located at Sindelfingen near Stuttgart.

In addition to the new facility in Beijing, Daimler’s global R&D network includes two more international Competence Centres: Specialists at Sunnyvale in the USA focus on innovations for the so-called “digital drivestyle” and Bangalore in India is home to the Competence Centre for digital product development and IT.

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