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Mercedes-Benz honors its history while dreaming of an electric future

June 08,2018
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Mercedes-Benz Korea CEO Dimitris Psillakis stands next to the company’s Concept EQA. [MERCEDES-BENZ KOREA]
BUSAN - Auto shows are usually all about promoting the latest models, so Mercedes-Benz Korea’s booth at this year’s Busan International Motor Show comes as a bit of a surprise.

The booth doesn’t display any of the company’s cars that are currently on sale.

Instead, it displays 10 classic cars delivered straight from the automaker’s museum in Stuttgart, in addition to concept cars that epitomize its vision for the future.

“It is the past and the future,” said Dimitris Psillakis, the CEO and President of Mercedes-Benz Korea, at the Busan International Motor Show on Thursday. “Our message is not selling cars but delivering value and education.”

Mercedes-Benz’s move was quite an experiment, as motor shows are generally where carmakers set up extravagant exhibitions to attract as much interest as possible.

Psillakis said he wants to approach visitors differently this year, perhaps due to the company’s status as the most popular import brand in Korea.

“I wanted to try something very different at the motor show. Not out of arrogance or being dominant, but to deliver value and a message to some 700,000 visitors who will enjoy the show for 10 days,” he added.

According to Mercedes-Benz Korea, this is the first time that the classic cars from the Stuttgart museum were taken out of their showroom to be displayed at an auto show.

It was a decision approved by Mercedes-Benz headquarters due to the continuous growth the Korean market has shown in the past, Psillakis said.

Ten cars from the 1880s to 1970s were flown to Busan in special packaging just for the show. They include the world’s first gasoline vehicle, the Patent Motorwagen, which was invented in 1886, and the 300 SL sports car, better known as the Gullwing, from 1955. The Mercedes Simplex, the first car launched under the Mercedes brand, will also be on display.

Psillakis said one of his favorite classic Mercedes on display is the Gullwing, as its iconic door style still resonates in contemporary cars.

“What makes something priceless is its timeless value. The design and item that people today still are imitating,” he said. “This for me is the value.”

On one side of its booth, Mercedes-Benz Korea set up a corridor that goes over a brief history of how the cars of today came about.

To make the most out of its exhibition, the company invited about 200 Korean high school students studying automotive engineering to check out the show, including the Mercedes booth.

“We will walk them around to the present, the history and the technology innovation to help these young people educate themselves and help them design their own career,” Psillakis said.

The booth isn’t all about reminiscing about the successful models from Mercedes-Benz’s past. It’s also about taking stock of the future.

Mercedes-Benz announced its future mobility strategy CASE recently. The acronym stands for connected, autonomous, shared and electric. It is a fledgling initiative, but the company is continuing to invest in developing future-oriented technologies.

The booth also includes future models for Mercedes-Benz’s electric-powered EQ line of vehicles. The E 300 e, a plug-in hybrid model that had its world premiere in Busan, is on display here. It can run 50 kilometers (31 miles) on electricity alone and can generate 122 maximum horsepower.

A plug-in hybrid version of the S-Class called the S 560 e, and the concept EQA model are also being introduced to Korea for the first time at the show.

Mercedes-Benz Korea has been a top player in the imported car market for the past two consecutive years. Korea is the fifth-biggest market for the German carmaker, and for the E-Class sedan, it is the world’s second-biggest market.

The local unit is taking its growth seriously. It uses its capacity to localize the cars’ Germany-developed systems so Koreans can use them. This is handled by an independent R&D team.

“We pledged this year to double the capacity in the R&D area. We have 40 people working only for R&D in Korea in the area of navigation, connected cars and infotainment,” Psillakis said. “We will launch our own version of the connected service called Mercedes-Benz User Experience, or the MBUX system in the Korean language. It is a result of our local R&D team in collaboration with Korean suppliers.”

It also plans to hold a groundbreaking event on Monday that will celebrate the expansion of its parts delivery center from 17,000 square meters to 30,000 square meters (4.2 acres to 7.4 acres).

The expansion will speed up the delivery of parts needed for after-sales service.

Psillakis didn’t spell it out, but it was obvious that he was confident that Mercedes-Benz would maintain the top position in Korea’s imported car market for another year.

“My team is well on track to fulfill the commitment we promised this year,” he said. “We are in full power in model launches and sales numbers are well on track as well.”


BY JIN EUN-SOO [jin.eunsoo@joongang.co.kr]