Zetsche The exit interview

After 43 years at Daimler, and with Mercedes-Benz in rude health, CEO Dieter Zetsche is stepping down.


‘Elon Musk took an intelligent path’

‘Tesla has been around 11 years, and now they sell more Model S saloons than the flagships from BMW, Audi and Mercedes [in Europe]. It’s a small number but in the segment it’s impressive. For the foreseeable future electro-mobility is more expensive, and that’s why Elon Musk took an intelligent path – these costs are more acceptable to customers in higher segments. But we need a transition [during which] our margins will be smaller and our prices higher.’


Dieter Zetsche

‘Electro-mobility faces many issues’

‘With electric cars it is not necessarily a case of the earlier the better. We are here now with the EQC () and we’ll have 10 electric vehicles by 2022. Of course, if you use EVs in China now you’ll actually increase your emissions, based on the coal [to generate the electricity] and the fact that the cells have a relatively high CO2 footprint, but this is improving fast. In Germany the CO2 footprint is around 40 per cent better [than a combustion-engined car] over the car’s lifetime – the next generation will be better. You can’t just flick a switch and everything is electric: power generation, vehicle production, recycling, infrastructure. But by doing it we’ll see improvements.’

‘Electric vehicles to re-define the performance segment’

‘The performance segment will continue to exist. Excitement is not a condition of cylinders or noise. We are all enthusiastic engineers, and it’s an exciting challenge to use new technology to create cars with a similar or even greater level of excitement. Porsche might get there before us (with the Taycan) but we want to be early in the transition via hybrids to full battery-electric vehicles, to re-define the performance segment.’

‘The engine is a not a differentiator any more’

‘Only a handful of customers can explain the characteristics of our engines, or what makes them decide on a Mercedes, a BMW or an Audi. We did the co-operation with Renault the only point was that sales were twice as high as expected. Engines are not a differentiator any more – the MBUX system creates much more excitement today than the engine.’

‘Stand still and you’re dead’

‘The world is changing. We can’t stop it. We can only participate and to some extent dictate the changes. It is optimistic to think we can go through this transition without an impact on the bottom line, and it is a fact that during similar disruption the old dominant players have been sidelined and new ones created. The good thing is that we’re healthy, our brand and portfolio is strong, and we’ve had a couple of profitable years. We must not depend on what we did yesterday but go aggressively forward with tomorrow.’

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