It seems as though Mercedes-Benz has been a household name forever, but where exactly did these luxury European cars come from? Despite ups and downs throughout its storied history, this brand has remained a premier producer of luxury vehicles worldwide. Delving into the history of Mercedes-Benz is to explore the history of luxury cars themselves.
It’s no surprise that the original creator of the automobile has left a long legacy of influence on global automotive markets. The Benz Patent-Motorwagen toted a humble two-thirds of a horsepower and cost the modern equivalent of $26,337 USD. Despite this, the first car sold around 25 models and, for the most part, started the car industry. Following this were a few variants of the Motorwagen and the minor hit Velo. In 1894 the Benz Viktoria was produced and was Karl Benz’s attempt at making an automobile more affordable for a general audience. It sold over 1,000 models in its first year and roads haven't been the same since.
As a new century dawned, there began a race for other automakers to squeeze their way into the market. The prestigious name of Benz and Daimler had dominated the market, and with the brand's recognition, it was practically impossible to compete as a luxury car. The race was then set as a race of affordability, which lead to extensive developments in mass production and efficiency that finally allowed the common man to buy his own automobile. Although Mercedes had not won this race of affordability, the German auto maker had set the standard of what a car should be like. It was in 1926 that the first Mercedes brand name cars were produced for the open market, shedding the company’s old composite name to adopt the brand name that would become the defining name of luxury automobiles.
The Mercedes-Benz Model 770 became one of their earliest smash hits in the 1930s and became one of the most highly sought after luxury cars in all of Europe. It was one of the last cars that would have any impact overseas in America as World War 2 began and Mercedes had understandably been isolated from the global market. The Mercedes-Benz Model 770 became associated with Hitler, as it was one of the vehicles he had been photographed in. This custom Model 770 was one of the first automobiles to feature bullet proof glass, and could also be considered the precursor to the famous pope-mobiles. The heavy, bullet proof glassed vehicles of the highest ranked religious figure in the western world was originally developed by Mercedes, perhaps redeeming them in some eyes after having used similar technology to protect one of the most infamous men in all of history.
Mercedes-Benz cars would not make it again into the United States until 1952 when the local distributor MBUSA or Mercedes Benz United States was started. The newly re-introduced Mercedes brand was well received in a market flooded with cookie-cutter mass produced cars from big local names such as Ford. The Mercedes brand filled a supply for the luxury automobile demand that had been growing in the post-war booming market. This was a critical time that Mercedes was fortunate to get in on as the United States auto culture had begun to explode in the 1950s. Americans had been taking to the relatively new routes and freeways and popularizing the American tradition of the road trip. If you were going to be driving a few thousand miles on bumpy backwoods routes and roadways, it was one extreme boon to be enjoying it in a cozy Mercedes.
The imported vehicles ensured that Mercedes was seen as a high-end luxury brand, with the extra cost of bringing that advanced German engineering across the Atlantic Ocean adding to its exclusivity. This changed in the 1990s when MBUSI opened its first production facility in Vance, Alabama. The local production helped to lower costs of the luxury sedans. Unfortunately, this move in production also aligned in a time that it seemed Mercedes was caught cutting corners. The public eye caught on to a quality slump which tanked the sale of Mercedes vehicles for more than a decade. It was not until new, high-quality sedan lines were made that Mercedes was able to catapult back up once again. The company had made a prodigious recovery from the rubbish bin to becoming the fourth best auto company worldwide, which is particularly impressive considering their luxury label. This has also increased the sale of previously-overlooked classic Mercedes Benz models, especially those from years when the company was considered sub-par. People are beginning to realize that although the cars didn't seem so great off the lot, they've withstood the test of time. Nowadays, they just need one or two replacement parts and the vehicles run like new for hundreds of thousands of miles.
The greatest legacy of Mercedes Benz upon the market is their open sharing of technology. The engineers with Benz have developed a lot of the most important safety and security features that we take for granted in our vehicles. The Safety Cell was designed by Mercedes to protect passengers in case of accident to prevent them from being crushed. Mercedes was the first developer of airbags as a safety mechanism in cars, which are now a feature in every single modern car. Mercedes is also responsible for developing anti-lock brakes, brake assist, the electronic stability program, and the original honeycomb radiator which is still used today in modern cars. They've taken a unique approach to its technology in that they have allowed their competitors to use Mercedes-developed gadgets in order to improve the quality of all automobiles. While this is not entirely selfless (as Mercedes does stand to benefit from licensing costs), it is certainly a huge boon for consumers who can enjoy life-saving devices across a wide variety of brands.
In recent times Mercedes has been aggressively marketing to keep on top and secure a long lasting legacy for the future. Mercedes-Benz has been competing with electric vehicle specialized brands such as Tesla, and may soon come out on top as the best electric automobile on the market. The Mercedes brand has also been included on some of the most interesting blueprints of cars of the future, with the company making plans for releases as far as 2030.