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125 years since the first automobile took to the roads

Cars get people, and the economy, moving. The automobile branch in Germany exports more than four million vehicles a year, making it a mainstay of the country’s economy. If the vehicles manufactured in Germany are to retain their leading position, Audi, BMW, Ford, Mercedes, Opel, Porsche and Volkswagen are going to have to remain every bit as innovative as Carl Benz and his wife were 125 years ago.

Chancellor Angela Merkel with Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche and state premier Stefan Mappus, behind them the first Benz and a new Mercedes Chancellor Angela Merkel with Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche and state premier Stefan Mappus Photo: REGIERUNGonline/Bergmann

"Patent-Motorwagen 1": three spoked wheels, a bench and an internal combustion engine open popup "Patent-Motorwagen 1" manufactured in1886 Photo: Daimler AG

 On 29 January 1886 the automobile was born, with the Motorwagen No. 1, patented by Carl Benz. In no time at all series production was launched and within twenty years a production line was needed. The rest is history.


At the start of the 21st century, manufacturers are facing new challenges. In view of dwindling resources and the imperatives of climate change mitigation, they are going to have to reinvent the engine. Around the globe companies are working flat out on fuel cell and battery powered vehicles, in Germany as elsewhere.


New engines to underpin the future


“The desire for mobility will not go away,” declared Chancellor Angela Merkel confidently at celebrations to mark the 125th anniversary of the automobile at Daimler AG. With innovative engine technology, the car does have a future. In future too people are going to want to travel, to extend their own radius.


Angela Merkel at a Daimler lectern open popup "Germany is the land of the car!" Photo: REGIERUNGonline/Bergmann

German manufacturers have always led the pack in developing new technologies, the Chancellor pointed out in her weekly podcast.  With a total workforce of 720,000 and an export quota of 70 percent, the automobile branch is a "mainstay of our prosperity", she underscored, speaking in the Mercedes-Benz-Museum in Stuttgart. To ensure that this remains the case, trailblazing innovations are going to be needed in future too.


The Chancellor is convinced that the next ten years will decide whether or not German manufacturers will manage to follow up their successful 125 years with another 125. If they are to do so, they will need cutting-edge expertise, but equally they will need to be courageous and open to innovation. "The world is happy to see German innovations – but it won’t wait for them," warned Angela Merkel. That is why it will be essential to step up efforts over the next few years rather than resting on our laurels.


Investing in the best minds


Politicians must provide the enabling framework. Every year the German government invests three billion euros in education and research to keep Germany at the forefront of innovation – by ensuring better training conditions, strong universities and new research centres.


The platform for electromobility that was put in place only last year has set the scene for the development of the branch, the Chancellor reminded her audience. The plan is for one million electric vehicles to be on German roads by 2020.


Car manufacturers call for an extension of the hydrogen service station network


Chancellor Angela Merkel talks to two young women open popup Angela Merkel talks to fuel cell experts Photo: REGIERUNGonline/Bergmann

Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche symbolically launched the production of a new series of vehicles that use fuel cell technology, to mark the anniversary. A team of technicians and engineers set off the same evening on a 125-day trip around the world, in three vehicles that are entirely emission-free while driving. They aim to prove that the new technology can work without a hitch.


The series-produced fuel cell vehicles can cope well with every day driving and with long-distance driving assured Dieter Zetsche. What is still needed though is an across the board hydrogen service station network. A young development engineer also reminded the audience of the formidable Berta Benz, wife of the inventor of the automobile inventor. On her first longer trip with the much admired vehicle of her husband she filled up at a pharmacy. A few years later the first petrol stations opened.


In this anniversary year Daimler AG will also be looking forward at the future of the automobile. Under the motto "125 years of innovation" an exhibition in Stuttgarts’s Mercedes-Benz-Museum looks at new paths towards emission-free mobility.

Information on the exhibition and a virtual tour

Jan 30, 2011