»Development of Energy Technologies Is Always an Evolutionary Process.«

Herbert Kohler, the Head of e-drive & Future Mobility and Chief Environmental Officer at Daimler talks about electric mobility and mass production.

Herbert Kohler, the Head of e-drive & Future Mobility and Chief Environmental Officer at Daimler AG.

Herbert Kohler, the Head of e-drive & Future Mobility and Chief Environmental Officer at Daimler AG talks about electric mobility, mass production, and how different drive strategies augment one another.

Mr. Kohler, when was the first time you drove a car with an electric drive system?

That must have been around the middle or the end of the 1990s – when I drove one of our very first fuel cell prototypes. Driving a cold-combustion vehicle was a very interesting experience. There was also something emotional about the electric drive system. It was direct and dynamic, and you immediately noticed that it was a different kind of driving.

Can the current paradigm shift regarding vehicle motorization be compared to the changeover from the steam engine to the internal combustion engine?
I’m not a big fan of bombastic images and comparisons, which is why I don’t see us experiencing a “clash of systems” in the coming years. Instead, the focus will be on the electrification of the existing powertrain, whether that occurs through a combination of an electric motor and a combustion engine or through the use of all-electric drive systems. As to how developments will proceed in detail: Well, we won’t know that until we’ve traveled a few years down the road. Let’s not forget that the development of energy technologies is always an evolutionary process: one drive system isn’t going to replace another one overnight.

You’re Head of e-drive & Future Mobility at Daimler. Your internal competence network has consolidated all key activities associated with future mobility. What processes have you developed to achieve this objective?
The organizational restructuring that took place one year ago brought together all activities related to research and advanced engineering. It also led to the establishment of close cooperation with other business units. Today, activities within our project structures are so tightly networked that we can exploit all the available synergies. And here I’m talking not just about research and development but also the preparations for series production operations. Because all crucial activities are carried out within one organizational unit, we are able to introduce new production vehicles very quickly.

What effect does this process have on the technical details of the vehicles ready for series production?
In this internal network for the future, it’s important to use a modular strategy to achieve the variety we’re seeking when it comes to new production models. And that’s exactly what we’re doing. We’re following this approach for hybrid drives and electric vehicles equipped with battery-electric or fuel cell drive systems. The important thing is to not only align systems but also have identical components.

Berlin and the “e-mobility” project represent one of the largest and most dynamic future networks in existence. What role is Daimler playing here?
We initiated the e-mobility Berlin project, and the hydrogen initiative in Berlin wouldn’t exist in its current form if we hadn’t been on board. Together with other automakers and energy supply companies, we were also involved from the very beginning in the development of a standard plug for battery-electric vehicles. Such major projects can only be implemented if many partners work together in a dedicated manner. This is true of Berlin – but it also applies to Hamburg, where we’ve been cooperating with Hamburger Hochbahn for quite some time. This type of cooperation also shows us who we can depend on over the long haul. In this context, I would like to mention Linde, a company with which we enjoy a long history of collaboration in the field of hydrogen applications.

Where does Daimler stand in terms of its goal of zero-emission mobility, now that the smart fortwo electric drive and the B-Class F-CELL are set to commence small-batch production?
We’ve come a long way over the last three to five years. As I always say, when you run a marathon, the race doesn’t really begin until you’re run the first two kilometers. Daimler has long since passed that point in terms of electric mobility and the vehicle technologies that are needed to make it a reality. Nevertheless, we’re still far from having achieved our goal, especially when it comes to the key issue of infrastructure.

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