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In search of progress: Daimler's research vehicles

For the competitive automotive market, constant technological innovation is the key to commercial success. No wonder then, many of the most prosperous and longest-living brands invest large shares of their budgets into the development of new ideas - be it technological or design wise. The outcomes are often quite peculiar vehicles that seem to be of only limited use to a consumer. But by creating a one-trip pony, focussing on few features only, designers and engineers develop advanced technologies that return as new gadgets in the series production cars.

Looking at the experimental vehicles developed by Daimler since the early days of motoring, more systematically since the 1970s in the form of research vehicles, demonstrates how a seemingly outlandish idea can spark a best seller product.

Benz Model 1

Believe it or not, this three-wheeler is proclaimed the world's first automobile. While this is is not uncontested, there is no doubt that the inventor Karl Benz contributed a key-element to what we know as the most common form of modern transport today: a vehicle powered by a gas engine. However, lacking the fourth wheel and with a 16 km/h maximum speed, many more innovations still lie ahead...

Mercedes-Benz C-111 I

At the Frankfurt International Motor Show 1969, Mercedes-Benz presented the C 111.

It served to test the Wankel engine. A three-rotor unit developing 280 hp permitted a top speed of 260 km/h. But not only the engine, especially the wedge--shaped, bright orange design makes this car one of the most iconic experimental cars of all times

Mercedes-Benz C-111 II

A revised version of the C 111 was shown at the Geneva Motor Show. It featured a four-rotor Wankel engine with an output of 350 hp. Little more was heard about the Wankel engine as diesel technology became the focus of research. The C 111-II D was powered by a five-cylinder diesel engine displacing 3.0 litres with 190 hp. By 1978, the C 111-III developed an output of 230 hp with an additional intercooler.

Auto 2000

Mercedes-Benz first presented the Auto 2000 at the 1981 IAA. This research car had an aerodynamically optimised body with a cd of 0.28. Three different engine concepts were tested in the car: a V8 petrol unit with automatic cylinder cutoff, a 3.3 liter diesel engine and a gas turbine engine. Other innovations were integral seats, an integral child restraint systems and pedestrian-friendly bumpers.

Mercedes-Benz NAFA

Congested streets, expensive parking space and long tailbacks raised new questions that Mercedes-Benz answered with the NAFA short-distance vehicle. The tiny two-seater contradicted everything the company was known to stand for to date and paved the way for two successful models of the 1990s: the A-Class and the smart. Innovations were the 5.7m turning circle, sliding doors and automatically folding side mirrors.

Mercedes-Benz F 100

Technical features of the F100 that made it into series production are numerous. Here are a few: a telephone operated via steering wheel buttons (launched in the S-Class W 220 series 1998), autonomous intelligent cruise control (also launched in the W 220 series), a solar cell roof (launched in the Maybach 62, 2002), gas-discharge headlights (xenon headlights in the E-Class 1995, W 210 series), etc...

Mercedes-Benz C 112

For the 1990 racing season in Group C, Mercedes-Benz and Sauber fielded the C 11 and became world champions at the end of the season. Engineers at Mercedes-Benz now wanted to bring active dynamic handling systems to production cars and came up with the sports car C 112. Powered by a V12 engine with 408 hp, its performance gets to the road at the physical limits with the highest level of active safety.

Mercedes-Benz Vario

One car, four vehicles: variability is the emphasis of the Vario Research Car, which premiered at the 1995 Geneva Motor Show. The VRC can be converted into four different cars: On weekdays it’s a saloon. For longer journeys, the load capacity of an estate is available. In the summer the sun invites you to take an open-top ride in a convertible. And for heavy loads, there’s the pickup with its open cargo space.

F200 Imagination

Does the car of the future still have a steering wheel? The F 200 Imagination, presented at the 1996 Paris Motor Show, tested new ergonomics. Sidesticks for steering and braking replace the steering wheel. The signals are exclusively transmitted electronically to the relevant components. Where mechanical elements previously existed, these are now linked with electric and hydraulic actuators.

Mercedes-Benz F300 Life-Jet

The development of the F 300 Life Jet was initiated by a specific question: how can one combine the feel and cornering dynamics of a motorcycle with the safety and comfort of a car? With three wheels, stability is better than on two. The top can be closed, and seat belts are incorporated. The motoring experience can be shared with a second person inside the vehicle. Air conditioning makes for pleasant temperatures.

F400 Carving

Experience with active adjustment of wheel camber was gained on the F 300. Research now moved on to a four-wheeled vehicle, the F 400 Carving. Its systems enhance handling safety, driving dynamics and motoring pleasure. The most conspicuous feature of the concept: during cornering, the outer wheels tilt by as much as 20 degrees, which improves directional stability and roadholding and reduces the danger of skidding.

Mercedes-Benz F 500 Mind

The Mercedes-Benz F 500 Mind was presented at the 2003 Tokyo Motor Show. The four-door car, designed as a modern fastback saloon, served as a research lab on wheels and demonstrated over a dozen technical ideas, amongst them a diesel-electric hybrid drive. The concept of the F 500 Mind already anticipates future emission regulations.

Bionic Car Concept

With the bionic car, the company investigated the potential of bionics for automotive development. For the first time, the engineers specifically looked for a role model in nature: the boxfish which has an aerodynamically ideal shape. The car seats four people and with a cd value of 0.19, the concept car ranks among the aerodynamically most efficient automobiles in this category of size.


The F 600 HYGENIUS continues the series of research cars. Powered by an 116 hp fuel cell drive, the compact family car consumes just 2.9 litres per 100 kilometres and has a range of over 400 kilometres on one tank filling of hydrogen. The fuel cell is 40 per cent smaller than before, and operates more efficiently. Energy not required for driving is stored in a lithium-ion battery, so the system operates similarly to hybrid drive.

F700 Concept

The F 700 is powered by a compact four-cylinder engine with a displacement of 1.8 litres. A two-stage turbocharger is responsible for the engine’s response and accelerating power. The internal combustion engine is supported by the electric motor of the hybrid module for starting off. Maximum output is 238 hp; the electric motor develops another 20 hp. The F 700 has a fuel consumption of just 5.3 litres.

F 800 Style

At the International Motor Show in Geneva 2010, Mercedes-Benz revealed the F 800 Style. This five-seater luxury saloon combines efficient drive systems with safety and comfort as well as an emotional design idiom. The car boasts a multiple drive platform that is suited both to electric drive with a fuel cell and the use of a plug-in hybrid that can go up to 30 kilometres under electric power alone.





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