Mercedes CTO Markus Schäfer on the Automaker's Software-Defined Future

Mercedes Concept CLA Class
Credit: Roberto Baldwin/SAE


Mercedes-Benz has been bullish on EVs. The EQ lineup of electric sedans and SUVs has helped it keep pace with the likes of BMW, Tesla, and Lucid. The automaker also recently began sales of a battery-powered Sprinter cargo van called the E-Sprinter. It understands that sustainability is key to the future of the brand and the planet. 

Currently, it's working on a new electric platform and operating system that would give it the same level of control of vehicles via OTA (over the air) updates that Tesla has over its models. The result could mean that in the future, Mercedes vehicles can be updated to increase efficiency or add features without owners taking a trip to the local service center. It's an important move and a huge technological lift for the automaker that requires great software developers. 

"We created a vision trying to push boundaries. That's what we do," Mercedes-Benz CTO Markus Schäfer told SAE during a recent sit-down interview. The executive pointed to the EQXX, the sleek Mercedes test bed that broke range records for efficiency. The vehicle's technology is being pulled into the automaker's latest concept, the Concept CLA Class which will sit on the upcoming Mercedes-Benz Modular Architecture (MMA) platform. 

"We want to live up to our promise. It's about creating trust," Schäfer said. "I think we are demonstrating here that there's a lot of innovation power in this organization and we are able to bring it to the customer." 

Mercedes CTO Markus Schafer
Credit: Mercedes-Benz


The upcoming MBOS and MMA haven't even made it to the market and Schäfer told SAE that the automaker is already working on what's next. "In this new world, things move so quickly. This is just the beginning here. I would call this really the start of a new era," Schäfer said.

Building that new era is tough. Schäfer remarked that while the CTO is having fun, he's also exhausted and his team is stretched very thin as it builds its own operating system for the first time in the 120-plus years of Mercedes building vehicles.

Schäfer's team has to pull off these major changes while also covering the automaker's legacy cars. While Mercedes is introducing MBOS and MMA to vehicles over the course of years, it'll continue to support and add new features to its current platform. "It's not a smartphone on wheels, requirements for automotive are so brutally tough," Schäfer told SAE. 

Certifications need to be met with legal and cybersecurity requirements. The endeavor is being tackled by a global team in Germany, India, the United States, and China that has to work in unison. 

On that team, Schäfer said that it's really the quality of the developer that matters. "If you have one great software developer, it could replace 10 to 15 medium software developers." 

The CTO also mentions that Mercedes has had to adjust its internal protocols and career paths for developers. Changes to working hours include adding flexibility, working from home, and benefits. 

As companies follow the path of Mercedes and Tesla to bring most software in-house to create software-defined vehicles, developers will become even more important in the automotive world. These are the people who will make the vehicles in driveways more efficient via an over-the-air update and add features on the fly that take only a few weeks to deploy instead of months. 

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