MBNA Addresses COMDEX on Automotive Next Frontier

Mercedes Benz keynote highlights coming computer revolution in the automobile.

Published: 16-Nov-2000

LAS VEGAS, Nov. 15 /PRNewswire/ -- Mercedes-Benz USA today took its place as the first automaker -- as well as the first non-computer/technology company -- to deliver a keynote address to the who's who of the computer industry gathered this week at COMDEX/Fall, one of the world's largest information technology tradeshows/conferences.

Complementing the keynote address is a 4,000 square-foot display centered around MBUSA's new flagship model: the V12-powered CL600. The display highlights and explains the latest in Mercedes-Benz technology, including active body control, distance monitoring systems, active cylinder control, telematics, web-based information services and more.

COMDEX attendees also have the opportunity to test drive 2001 Mercedes-Benz models in an area adjacent to the Las Vegas Convention Center. Over 1,500 test drives have taken place since the test drives began on Monday. Also during these five days, MBUSA is conducting workshops focusing on various aspects of automotive-related technology, including voice recognition, telematics and fiber optics.

In his keynote address, Ken Enders, vice president of marketing for MBUSA, discussed automobiles as the next platform for the computer industry and how the two industries could complement each other in this next frontier as well as what the challenges and opportunities might be.

"The average commuter spends 1.5 hours per day in their car. There are 135 million registered vehicles in the US -- more cars and trucks than homes. If you think about it, this is an amazing opportunity for the computer industry. It's certainly too important for automotive companies to ignore," Enders said.

Highlights from Enders' address include:

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Why do cars belong at COMDEX? The first reason is simply that they're packed full of technology. Cars are the computers we drive. Many people might dismiss them as more mechanical than digital. But if you consider the state-of-the-art technology that makes up today's automobile, you would immediately realize that this is not the case.

Today's vehicle is one of the most sophisticated ecosystems of embedded computing and communications technology there is. Computers are a part of virtually every function of your vehicle. A network of computers make thousands of decisions a second that affect things like safety and performance. It's a network that can get you from 0-60 mph in 6 seconds ... that doesn't melt down in 120-degree desert temperatures ... that can get blasted with water and still perform perfectly. Your PC can't do that. Your datacenter can't do that ... but your car can. In fact, Mercedes-Benz has been the leader in using computers to bring innovations to car buyers, such as anti-lock brakes, smart airbags, adaptive Suspension systems, telematics systems, and one of our latest, doppler radar based cruise control.

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The second reason (that cars belong at COMDEX) is that automotive companies have a tremendous amount of experience in building brands and selling lifestyles. Ever since automobiles were offered in colors other than black, cars have been lifestyle products. Americans have always chosen their vehicles based as much on looks, design and brand attributes, as well as on performance and safety capabilities. The entire ownership experience for a vehicle, especially a Mercedes-Benz, is both a highly rational and a highly emotional experience.

For all of our attention to performance and safety and high-end functionality, buying a Mercedes-Benz is in essence a lifestyle decision for the consumer. No one is more aware than we are, of the powerful roles design and brand-association play in a major purchase decision.

But, the considerably longer product development time and lifecycles of our products required us to develop an expertise in creating close relationships with our customers. Not only to meet their current needs, but to anticipate and deliver on their future expectations.

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And finally the third and perhaps the most important reason why our attendance here at COMDEX makes sense is that cars have become the next big untapped platform for "mobile e-services." You've heard a lot this week about your cell phone, your PDA, your house being the hot platform: I'd argue that it's your car.

Whether you admit it or not, we all have an intimate, important relationship with our cars ... you're most likely more familiar with your car than you are with most other pieces of technology in your life. You depend on it to do something that no PC or enterprise network or chunk of C-code can do: you depend on it to preserve your life, and the lives of those around you, while it physically transports you from Point A to Point B.

That's a huge responsibility. Security, reliability and performance are some of the core reasons people choose the brand Mercedes-Benz. They entrust us with their dollars, and their lives. We take this responsibility very seriously.

But, we're always looking for ways to raise the bar for how we deliver exceptional experiences to those consumers. So far design, technology and traditional services have been the corner stone of our efforts. But more and more, mobile e-services will play an increasingly dominant role in how we evolve and differentiate the Mercedes-Benz ownership experience.

At the heart, mobile e-services are about matching a consumer's preferences with their location, to deliver a service of value to them over the Net -- in this case, into their vehicle. Some have said that "content is king." But the emergence of new platforms has shown that "context is king." What I mean by "context" is the right information or service, delivered to the right person, place or thing at the right time. A person in a vehicle at a particular roadway at a particular time going to a particular destination with a particular purpose, combined with information about environmental and vehicle conditions. That's a powerful context in which to deliver these new mobile e-services and make them compelling and relevant.

Connecting your car to the Internet is not a very difficult technological challenge. Very soon, justas your PDA and WAP phone does today, your car will become another access point to the Internet and e-services. The real challenge lies in finding a way to deliver the content and context, without interfering with a safe operation of the vehicle.

Because every Mercedes-Benz is equipped with telematics, including GPS, it can pinpoint your location down to a few meters. Today, marketing a swanky new Asian-fusion restaurant to a driver based on their proximity to the restaurant is a no-brainer. But with mobile e-services, we'll be able to do that only to the people who like Asian food. We'll be able to marry customer preferences with location and deliver appropriate services to them in their car, over the Internet, since the car will be connected to the Net. It's easy to see the migration of current navigation systems from providing simple turn-by-turn directions, to providing restaurant suggestions, alerts about sales that might interest you, or news items that cover only those topics you typically enjoy.

* * *

I'm told that the battle over "Who Owns the Consumer" is raging in Silicon Valley. Does Yahoo! or Sprint PCS own the consumer when a cellphone is used to get news, sports, or stock reports? Car companies have a clear advantage in that respect. When a customer presses the "I" button inside any one of our models, the voice that says, "Mercedes-Benz, may I help you?" is clearly the voice of Mercedes-Benz. Our telematics platform is the best tool we have to be in constant contact with our customer. And let me tell you, it's a good feeling to hear that voice when you run out of gas on a dark and stormy night in an unfamiliar area!

* * *

Our Silicon Valley research center in Palo Alto, California has demonstrated some amazing technologies that may be indicators of what is to come:

-- Dynamic communities. Cars connected to the Net by voice can not only push shopping information to you in the comfort of your car, but do so based on what we've learned about your likes and dislikes. They can dynamically create and disband communities of like-minded commuters who happen to be sitting in the same traffic jam!

-- Infofueling. In 2001, you will see the emergence of a new high-speed, short-range wireless infrastructure that connects cars to the Net in new and novel ways. You've heard a lot about how bluetooth and other high-speed, short-range wireless networks will be deployed throughout shopping malls and gas stations. They'll leapfrog cellular networks, because they'll be 5-10 times faster. Will the next Blockbuster video rental be downloaded to your car as you drive by? Will you get updated news, information and entertainment as you drive by an infofueling station? Yes ... and much more.

-- Mapping. Cars with GPS receivers -- a standard feature on all Mercedes-Benz vehicles sold in the U.S. -- could automatically build their own maps. By tracing vehicle paths over a large number of cars, it is possible to build far more accurate "living maps." These maps will be far more up-to-date than any static database. And through Dynamic Route Guidance the latest construction roadblocks, real-time traffic alerts, and histories of dangerous curves, slippery intersections, and frequency of traffic jams, can be intelligently interpreted by the vehicle.

-- Telematics will continue to be enhanced. Tomorrow's car may know what kind of highway you like to drive, and which ones you like to avoid. It will know that you go out of your way to avoid making left turns. Marrying this data with your location, the navigation system could route you in a way that appeals to you. In addition, the telematics systems alert you to the need for a software upgrade in your engine diagnostics system and your car could download new software or reflash itself, while you drive, making a service visit unnecessary.

-- Federated computing on the road. Take this a step further: I spoke earlier about how every car will soon be connected wirelessly to the Internet -- able to access mobile e-services -- able to transmit information about its location and behavior over the Net. When you think about a highway of cars, each uploading information about its experience -- and that information feeding back into the cars' drive control systems allowing it to automatically adapt to the various situations on the highway -- it's a phenomenal example of federated computer power, of peer-to-peer communications helping improve and secure the driving experience for everyone on the road.

... And then imagine that cars don't communicate simply with each other, but with other connected devices. If your smart refrigerator knows that you are out of milk, your car could know that, too, and direct you to the nearest grocery store.

* * *

As the company that invented the automobile over 100 years ago, Mercedes-Benz is now redefining the automotive experience for the 21st century. We have technology leadership. We have a history of firsts that we intend to extend. We have unmatched brand loyalty. We have prioritized safety and reliability. And, from a marketing perspective ... we understand how critical it is to provide mobile e-services in such a way that we protect and enhance our brand. We will use mobile e-services to further differentiate the experience of driving our cars, from the experience of driving any other. And that requires very new relationships.

Relationships that benefit both the automotive and technology industries. We know that you've got a wealth of expertise in coping with the fast-changing technologies, bringing emerging technologies to the marketplace, and to make the seemingly impossible ideas of today, a reality of tomorrow. By the same token, we bring our know-how in integrating the latest innovations into the ultimate lifestyle product -- the automobile -- by anticipating the needs of our demanding customers. Together we can work to bring the safest, most compelling, most technologically-forward solutions to drivers everywhere.

Today marks the convergence of information technology, with the tried-and-true technology of the automotive industry. And for those of us at Mercedes-Benz, it's an incredibly exciting time.

So, don't be surprised to see more of the likes of me at future computer-industry tradeshows. I think it's going to be one hell of a ride for all of us ... car people and computer people alike.

Mercedes-Benz USA, headquartered in Montvale, N.J., is responsible for the sales, service and marketing of Mercedes-Benz products in the United States. The company sold 189,437 vehicles in the U.S. during 1999, an 11.3 percent increase over the previous year, setting the highest sales volume ever in history. Mercedes-Benz USA is currently running 10 percent ahead of last year.

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