Made of honour
Are ethical principles and business success mutually exclusive? Not according to Martin Zimmermann, president and CEO of Mercedes-Benz South Africa, who tells CHARLEEN CLARKE that the company is passionate about being a so-called “honourable merchant” …
Daimler’s most recent Sustainability Report includes the following wonderful story courtesy of Karl Kraus. According to the satirist, a student tells a professor that he wants to study business ethics. The professor replies, “You’re going to have to make up your mind and pick one or the other.”
That is the sentiment of many a cynic, who will tell you that “business ethics” is the greatest oxymoron of our time. But of course that’s simply not true. Any company worth its salt recognises the importance of ethics and conducting its business in a sustainable manner.
And this is nothing new. While the term, “sustainability” has been bandied around far more over the past decade than ever before, the aforementioned Daimler report hastens to point out that sustainability has been around for hundreds of years. It actually originated during the Middle Ages – more specifically, in the principles practiced by the Medicis in Italy and the Hanseatic merchants of northern Europe. They called ethical companies “honourable merchants” – practically speaking, businesses that would anticipate the consequences of their actions.
Fast forward 500 years or so, and nothing has really changed. That concept of the “honourable merchant” applies today – much more so than ever before. Except that the “honourable merchant” is now a company that is passionate about the subject of sustainability.
Mercedes-Benz is one such company – its stakeholders demand that it should be a top performer not only within the area of product development but also in its approach to environmental, social and ethical responsibility. “We’re obviously competing in the luxury segment, which means that fuel consumption isn’t necessarily a huge issue. But this is more a game of sustainability; our customers are certainly becoming more environmentally conscious. As such, we are making substantial investments in sustainability – both in terms of manufacturing and also in terms of our products,” Zimmermann tells SHEQ MANAGEMENT.
When it comes to manufacturing, the company’s goals are undeniably lofty. It wants to reduce CO2 emissions at its European production plants by 20 percent by 2020 (that’s versus the early 1990s) – despite a substantial increase in production volume. As a result, specific CO2 emissions at European manufacturing facilities will decrease by two-thirds over this period of time.
This programme is not limited to European production facilities; similar CO2 reduction technologies are being employed at its plants outside of Europe. Just one example is India, where Daimler India Commercial Vehicles (DICV) has set up shop. It has committed to avoiding using diesel generators for back-up power and also to pursuing a “zero discharge” policy that goes far beyond simple process water purification and stipulates that DICV will not release any liquid or solid pollutants into the environment through the water cycle. Furthermore, DICV’s new logistics complex in Tamil Nadu, which opened at the beginning of 2013, employs solar power – meaning it is virtually self-sufficient from an energy perspective.
But, of course, one of the company’s most important weapons in the fight to curb emissions is its product range, which is becoming greener by the day. In fact, Daimler has reduced the CO2 emissions of its fleet of new vehicles in Europe over the last five years by more than 20 percent to 140 g CO2/km. “Our target is to achieve an emission level of 125 g CO2/km by 2016,” reveals Zimmermann.
It is doing this via two predominant methods: “greening” its product range and also offering ingenious mobility solutions. First the product range. “We are taking our conventional powertrains and improving them – via the incorporation of new technology and components,” explains Zimmermann. “Just one example of this strategy is our new nine-speed transmission, the 9G-TRONIC with torque converter, which offers a 10 percent fuel saving over the previous transmissions.” It is fitted to the E 350 BlueTEC, one of the most fuel-efficient six-cylinder diesel models in its class.
Then there is the move to hybrids. The E-Class HYBRID, which graces our cover this month (see the sidebar on page 22 of this issue) is a green case in point. And Zimmermann says there is more to come. “We are about to launch the S 500 plug-in hybrid, which will emit a mere 69 g of CO2 per kilometre and use just three litres of fuel per 100 km. This vehicle will set a new benchmark for luxury saloons that, just a few years ago, was thought virtually impossible,” he notes.
The S-Class hybrid, which features an 80-kW electric drive combined with a new 3,0-litre V6 turbocharged engine, will arrive in South Africa next year. “It’s an incredible vehicle,” Zimmermann promises. “You can even drive through the city – up to a maximum of 30 km – on electric power alone! We know that this sort of vehicle will drive down emissions dramatically.”
Does this mean that electric vehicles are the way of the future? “Not in South Africa, for the time being,” Zimmermann believes. “We have no plans to bring electric cars to South Africa because we don’t believe that they are suited to market conditions here. Our other products – diesel-powered cars, for instance – are a better option for this market. We’re honestly not convinced that it makes sense for South Africa to invest in the huge and costly infrastructure required by electric cars.”
That’s not to say that there isn’t a place for electric cars elsewhere. “We are continuing to invest in our electric cars, focusing specifically on the smart and the electric B-Class. These vehicles are especially well suited to car-sharing schemes, which is one of our many mobility offerings,” says Zimmermann.
Speaking of mobility offerings, he is especially proud of the success of the car2go concept. “With car2go customers in various European and North American cities can rent a smart fortwo on the spur of the moment. Customers simply rent an available vehicle in the respective part of the city and return it somewhere else after the drive. The rental fee is calculated by the minute, and users can search for currently available vehicles via a computer or – even more conveniently – via a smartphone app,” Zimmermann reveals.
The concept is so successful one new city is being added per month. Sadly, no South African cities are on the car2go horizon right now. “Maybe in a couple of years time but not right now. You need an extremely dense population for the concept to work. Also, it is ideal if the concept can be supplemented by good public transport,” Zimmermann explains.
However Zimmermann certainly believes that we could eye hydrogen cars in our future. “We consider ourselves at the forefront of fuel cells but the challenge is obviously the infrastructure and the access to hydrogen, which must be produced in an ecologically sensitive way. Plus these powertrains are still very expensive. Having said that, I believe that we will see fuel cell cars on our roads in the next 10 years in certain areas. And South Africa, where we have wind and sun, could be a good location to produce hydrogen in an ecological way and thereby fuel our cars. Because of the access to sun and wind, countries such as South Africa could be at the forefront of introducing bigger fleets of fuel cell vehicles,” he notes.
Until then, Mercedes-Benz South Africa will continue in its quest to push for higher emission standards and cleaner fuels in this country. Always remaining mindful of the fact that it is an “honourable merchant”, of course …
BlueTEC goes green(er)
Noshcon – the annual international occupational risk management conference and exhibition – epitomises sustainability, environmental consciousness and safety … which is why our choice of transport to reach this important event was significant. As such, we decided that we simply had to put the new Mercedes-Benz E 300 BlueTEC HYBRID (the world’s most efficient luxury car) through its paces …
But, before we tell you about our drive there and back, some facts and figures about this mighty impressive car. Firstly, the grunt under the hood. The E 300 BlueTEC HYBRID is powered by a four-cylinder diesel engine, which generates 150 kW of power and 500 Nm of torque. The diesel engine is joined by an electric motor rated at 20 kW and 250 Nm. Incredibly, this advanced car can run on just 4,2 litres of diesel/100 km and it emits a mere 110 g of CO2/km (that’s a lot less than most cheap and cheerful runabouts)!
Not surprisingly, Martin Zimmermann, president and CEO of Mercedes-Benz South Africa, is pleased as Punch with the debut of the world’s most efficient luxury car in South Africa. “We have sold over 13 million E-Class models since it was first launched 60 years ago; the W212 version has already clocked up 700 000 sales, of which 22 000 of those were in South Africa,” Zimmermann tells SHEQ MANAGEMENT.
Of course, these facts and figures are all very well. But what’s the new E 300 BlueTEC HYBRID like to drive? At start-up, it’s quiet. Really, really quiet. In fact, it’s completely silent. That’s because it’s able to run on electric power alone at speeds of up to 35 km/h and for up to one kilometre. So we cruised out of our office park without making a mutter, the security guard looking decidedly confused at our silent departure.
Pulling off from the traffic light was an equally giggle-worthy experience. The hybrid scampers from standstill because the electric motor kicks into action – and its full torque of up to
250 Nm is immediately available.
Then it was time to hit the highway and do a bit of “sailing” (we kid you not). That’s because, at speeds below 160 km/h, the combustion engine shuts down and the desired speed is maintained by the electric?motor alone until the battery needs recharging. Thus, during our trek through a misty Van Reenen’s Pass, this hybrid luxury car practically ran on its electric motor exclusively, making for a silent magic carpet-like sensation. When we needed to overtake, we were grateful for the boost function (the electric motor supports the combustion engine during acceleration, giving the car even more zing).
So the E 300 BlueTEC HYBRID is a fabulous car to drive. But is it practical? Zimmermann reckons that it is. “It’s the ideal ‘green’ car. It doesn’t require any special infrastructure, charging stations, special fuel or government incentives,” he notes.
It certainly makes sense to us …