I'm a great fan of the German cars, Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz, but in particular, Mercedes-Benz. Since childhood I believed that Henry Ford invented the motor car, and then I learned that Karl Benz actually did, way back in 1886 when Henry Ford was still playing with Lego. Not to get down on Henry, he did conceive the production line which sped up production of all cars.
I can't remember when I started adoring and respecting Mercedes-Benz above all others, but I can tell you why…
They have put a couple of principles into practice and taken some decisions that I really respect and that I think we can learn from.
1. They are pioneers
Mercedes-Benz has pioneered more automotive technology than any other car maker. Often times on the car forums, people will bash Merc and insist they're copying others in design or in technology. I always respond that even if that was true, they have every right to do so – they invented the car, so all car makers, simply by the act of producing cars, are copying them.
That's just some light hearted kidding around, but the point is, Mercedes have been pioneers. They developed the engine ignition system so you don't have to start the engine with a wrench, developed the first supercharged car, pioneered crumple zones, created ABS for cars, were the first to introduce airbags in Europe, developed the collapsible steering column and Electronic Stability Program (ESP), which was later introduced in other cars by many other names like DSC, and this is just a very short list.
Pioneering has its price, but its worth it. Mercedes spends more than any other manufacturer on research and development (these days it's around R90 million per day! In 2006 they spent R140 million every day on research and development), so they walk away with less profit, but in the minds of the majority of the world's population, they have a name of prestige, respect and admiration right up there with Bentley and Rolls Royce.
When people need to refer to a benchmark, you'll only hear one of two things: They are the Rolls Royce of their field, or they are the Mercedes Benz of their field.
As a testament to Mercedes' pioneering spirit, see how much technology present in Bentley and Rolls Royce was conceived and developed by Mercedes-Benz. You'll note that this distinction doesn't apply the other way around. Another testament is that roughly 9 out of 10 royals and statesmen (presidents, diplomats, rulers, ministers, kings, queens, chancellors) drive or are driven in a Mercedes-Benz S-Class or Maybach.
2. They are not selfish and greedy
The thing about Mercedes that I respect and admire more than anything else, something which no other car maker to my knowledge has ever done, is that they licensed their safety technology for use by their competitors.
That meant that other car makers could use Mercedes' safety technology in their own cars without paying royalties to Merc. And that means that countless people are alive today, countless children of those people are able to be here today, because of Mercedes' pioneering technology present in Volvo, BMW, Audi etc etc etc.
Ok, corporate greed is everywhere and I'm not going to say Mercedes don't try and maximise their profits like any other car maker, or for that matter, anything maker. But licensing your safety technology to others, which you spent millions upon millions developing, is not something a company with greed at its core does.
3. It's vital to choose your mentors and leaders extremely carefully
Mercedes-Benz went through the ugliest period in their history between 1995 and 2005. Unfortunately, the wrong person was chosen to head the company, someone who didn't understand the principles of excellence. He decided that Mercedes should cut expenses to increase their profit. Mercedes dropped in the customer satisfaction ranks until they were second from the bottom. It's an amazing testimony to Mercedes' established reputation that they managed to go through that period with minimal damage.
Then a new CEO took over – a man who understands excellence very, very clearly, and Mercedes has never made better cars before in their history, despite the fact that with computers and electronics, it's harder than ever to do so because there are many times more chances for faults and bugs to occur.
The most recent technological development by Mercedes as of this writing is PRE-SAFE, a system that goes beyond protecting you in a crash, it actually predicts the crash and prepares the seating position and airbags, closes the windows and sunroof, and fires the seatbelt pre-tensioners BEFORE the crash happens. If the crash doesn't happen, the systems all reset to normal.
The materials and engineering are again top class, and the decade before is now just a bad memory.
4. They value family
Couples often lose the passion and spark in their marriage because they don't have a common goal and vision for their lives. Then one day they say things like, “I just don't love her/him anymore” or “We just drifted apart over time”! Um, yes, so don't let it happen. Make your family part of your story. Don't see your wife/husband as a separate entity to your purpose in life. We are called to do this thing together.
If you look at the Mercedes-Benz story, you can see a family theme throughout. Bertha Benz drove Karl's car over a long distance in a well publicised tour. At the time people didn't understand the gasoline engine and thought the thing must be driven by demons. They were very superstitious.
Bertha Benz's trip, made without her husband's knowledge, made people more comfortable with the idea of the automobile and curiosity was peaked setting the stage for success.
Other family references in the amazing history of Mercedes Benz include its very name. Mercedes Jellinek was the daughter of Emil Jellinek. Emil Jellinek was a wealthy man who drove early Daimler engine developments because he raced their cars and required more and more speed.
Gottlieb Daimler worked on an automobile design around the same time as Karl Benz, but since his was a converted horse carriage, instead of a purpose designed chassis like Karl Benz's, Karl Benz was credited as the father of the automobile.
One of the Daimler engines was named after Emil Jellinek's daughter Mercedes. Eventually Emil Jellinek named his racing team Mercedes. He clearly adored his daughter. Eventually, Karl Benz merged his company with Daimler's to form Daimler-Benz.
I don't know about you, but family is very important to me and so this element of the Mercedes-Benz heritage puts them head and shoulders above the rest in my book. To me, Ferrari and Mercedes have the most reason to be proud and have the richest heritage of all car companies, but even Ferrari can't claim to have invented the automobile;)