‘Car companies that don’t partner up won’t survive’

Mercedes and BMW are setting a good example of sharing technology and expertise, says Steve Fowler

Among the many important reveals and announcements at this year’s Geneva Motor Show, finding myself sitting in front of Mercedes’ research and development boss (and soon-to-be CEO) Ola Källenius and his BMW R&D counterpart Klaus Fröhlich was a real pinch-yourself moment.

Here were two giants of the industry, working for rival firms, talking about cooperating on future technologies. Yes, working together: BMW and Mercedes.

• 2019 Geneva Motor Show round-up

The two companies will be developing autonomous vehicle technology, combining expertise, sharing costs and, according to Källenius, “bringing more power, speed and quality to what we’re trying to develop”.

“Some of the new technologies in avenues like this are hugely exciting and will bring huge benefits to our customers we couldn’t dream about 10 years ago,” he said.

Car companies have been developing complicated technologies in parallel for years, though. It’s often puzzled me why every major brand produces its own versions of same-sized, same-power output engines, for example. It wouldn’t happen in the tech world. So why now?

“We’re in a transformational era of the automotive industry; you could say a disruptive era of the auto industry,” Källenius told me. “So as we go through this transformational era of very high investment – and of course you know what’s going on with electrification and reducing CO2, and many other areas – if you find the right partner or in this case the right partners, you can share investment.”

In addition to their technical collaboration, Mercedes and BMW will be working together to provide sustainable urban mobility services. “We have to invent new fields of revenue besides the classic automotive business to sell or lease cars,” explained Fröhlich.

However, it was his stark warning about the future of the car industry that reveals just how much things are going to have to change. “Partnering will be essential to survive as an OEM,” he said. It’s always made sense, but rarely happened in the past. A change in mindset at some car makers is desperately needed, not least some close to home.

What do you think about car companies sharing technologies? Let us know in the comments below…

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