Daimler's Stark: Autonomous driving is a crucial component of digitization strategy

In a recent interview with automotiveIT, Wilko Andreas Stark, the head of Daimler Strategy and Product Strategy and Planning, Mercedes-Benz Cars, talked about the various levels of the digital transformation Daimler has embarked on. Stark also discussed new business models and organizational challenges and acknowledged that automakers will need cooperation pacts to succeed in the new-mobility world. Stark joined the premium car group in 2012. Earlier, he worked as a business adviser at Boston Consulting and served as head of group product strategy at Volkswagen.

Mr. Stark, digitization is permanently changing all processes in the auto industry all along the value chain as well as in customer relationships. How are you dealing with the accompanying challenges?Digital transformation is a top priority for us. But the issue is very multilayered. There is the digitization along the value creation chain, which falls under the heading of Industry 4.0. Here we must succeed in creating a digital network of the main interfaces between development, purchasing and production so the company can continue to act flexibly ”“ all the way down to a batch size of one. The intelligent networking of the car and the customer’s living environment is another level. We have, among other things, created Mercedes Me for this.

Can you explain a bit more? Where exactly are you starting out? What goals has Daimler set?With Mercedes Me, we are facing up to the demands of modern mobility. For example, one of the five pillars of this solution is Connect Me, with pure basic services like automatic emergency calls all the way to remote services, which include remote door locking and the programming of auxiliary heating. After the US and China, we will soon have a comprehensive concierge service in our portfolio for Europe as well, just to give you a sense of the possible expansions. We are also connecting Mercedes Me with dealers so the customer can make appointments online and the vehicle can automatically communicate upcoming service needs.

When it comes to digital platforms, you are automatically entering into competition with powerful adversaries. You may have your own ecosystem, but don’t you ultimately have to cooperate with the digital world’s high-tech players? We are aware of the competition and we know that we can’t always do everything on our own. But we consider the ventures and partnerships that we want to enter very carefully. It is impossible to get around cooperative ventures in the auto industry because a manufacturer can’t cover the entire range alone. The transformation is too complex for that.

What opportunities does digitization offer in terms of new business models?Consider car2go. Our car sharing service is available in 31 metropolises worldwide. If you carry things further, it would be possible to operate these kinds of fleets completely autonomously. Right now, the logic behind the business model is changing, as car2go is becoming what we could call car2come. In other words, the vehicle picks you up and takes you where you want to go. You just get out when you reach your destination, and the vehicle continues on. The search for a parking spot is eliminated. I am assuming that we are on the brink of radical changes in this area. This is the reason that autonomous driving is a crucial component of our digitization strategy.

Will the classic auto industry and the IT sector jointly establish a kind of mobility industry at their interface?I would not exclude that. I suspect it would depend on what the linkage turns out to be. Autonomous driving could be the interface where the new world emerges. The reason: As I have already described, this technology will usher in completely new business models. In any case, an exciting era lies ahead of us.

Read the full interview with Wilko Andreas Stark in the June issue of automotiveIT International magazine. For a complimentary subscription, please go to: http://www.automotiveit.com/subscribe

Interview: Hilmar DunkerPhotos: Claus Dick