Press Kit: Mercedes-Benz in the UK
Jun 13, 2007
The car becomes an item of mass production
  • Difficult times in the aftermath of the Second World War, then registration figures explode
  • Mercedes-Benz decides to take sales into its own hands
  • Engines for the Formula One Silver Arrows built in England
While Britain was able to return to pre-war automotive production levels by as early as 1947, for German companies any resumption of normal business dealings after the Second World War was extremely difficult. The “Stuttgarter Nachrichten” of October 19,1950, for example, reported that the German automotive industry was not present at the International Motor Show in London opened on October 18, the main reason being “that Germany is still not authorized to export motor vehicles to Britain. On the other hand, since conclusion of a new trade agreement, an increasing number of German cars are now being delivered throughout the British Empire.”
In the catalogue for the 30th International London Motor Show at Earls Court from October 21 – 31, 1953, Mercedes-Benz advertised the fact that cars from “the world’s oldest car manufacturer” were now available once again in Britain through the sole authorized sellers, Mercedes-Benz Great Britain Ltd., London. At this first appearance in London since the war, the German brand occupied stand number 142 and presented a 170 D, a 180 with four-cylinder engine and the six-cylinder 300 and 300 S roadster models. There were also five demonstration cars to give visitors an opportunity to test the quality of the products for themselves.
The timing of the exhibition was without doubt highly propitious for us, since it coincided with the arrival of the first vehicles after the reopening of the market to German products, applications for vehicle imports had been posted well ahead of the exhibition, and roughly ten sub-dealerships in the various provinces had already been set up,” concluded an internal report on the London Motor Show of 1953. “Interest in our products in general was exceptionally high. We received contact from very many former Mercedes-Benz customers, who expressed their joy at seeing Mercedes-Benz back in the British marketplace once again.” Such enthusiasm was confirmed in an article published in the German newspaper “Die Welt” on October 24,1953: “The Mercedes personnel were barely able to cope with the crowds of visitors. Within the first three hours of the show’s opening, Mercedes had already sold five cars – including two 300 models.”
The internal report also documented the fact that up until this point no fewer than 69 vehicles had been shipped to England, with a further 139 vehicles on order; in addition, a minimum of 20 orders were expected for the last month of the year. The report concluded that the 300 and 220 looked particularly strong prospects for the British market, as did the diesel passenger car, “despite exceptionally strong British competition.”
Similarly, in 1954, “the crowd of interested visitors was greater than we had ever experienced at any other show,” according to a brief internal report on the London Motor Show. “As a result it was almost impossible to inspect the individual vehicles at close quarters.” At its second appearance at the show since the war, Mercedes-Benz Great Britain presented the 180, 220, 300 and 300 SL models.
In Britain of the 1960s the car was no longer the novelty item it had once been, but an object of mass production. Whereas in the first half of the twentieth century simply owning a car was enough to reveal the social standing of the driver, by the latter half of the century the car had become more an accessory to the driver’s sense of social inclusion. The number of registered vehicles grew exponentially: although the population of the British Isles increased relatively moderately from around 53 million in 1961 to 59 million by the end of the last century, the number of registered cars increased in the same period by almost a factor of four, from about six million to just under 23 million. In 2005 there were 26.2 million registered private vehicles on Britain’s roads, and the following year a further 2.4 million vehicles were added to the register.
Mercedes-Benz takes control of its own foreign affairs
Once Daimler-Benz had taken the decision in 1970 under the guidance of Heinz C. Hoppe, then the Board of Management member responsible for Sales, to organize its own foreign sales along the lines of the successful American model, there followed a sustained period of less than straightforward negotiation. As Hoppe recalled in his report “Ein Stern für die Welt”, published in 1991: “We had major problems setting up the British subsidiary Mercedes-Benz United Kingdom Ltd. (MBUK), since in the Tilling Group we were dealing with a holding company that also represented vehicles from BMW and other brands. In terms of passenger cars we were already achieving very satisfactory sales results given the conditions at the time, and yet the authorized representative of the Tilling Group, Mr. Meany, categorically refused to sell commercial vehicles as well, even though then as now Britain represented the largest truck market in Europe.” For Daimler-Benz this was of course unacceptable: “We had to stand our ground throughout a series of long and complicated negotiations that were not concluded until 1974 and finally led to the founding of Mercedes-Benz United Kingdom Ltd. with headquarters in Brentford.”
Following the takeover, the Stuttgart company drew up what was at the time an entirely new concept for the British market: “As in Washington (Park Avenue) and Paris (Champs Elysées) we set up a London showroom at a representative location,” reported Hoppe. “Despite the high rental for the premises, the salon at Piccadilly Circus was worth every penny. The accuracy of our decision to establish the subsidiary could be seen in the fact that sales increased markedly after years of relative drought and today [1990] annual sales in Britain are around 30,000 passenger cars and 17,000 trucks.”
In June 1974 Daimler-Benz presented the newest version of its Experimental Safety Vehicle, the ESF 24, at the fifth conference of the international Experimental Safety Vehicle research program in London. The ESF 24, the result of safety research which gained increasingly in importance throughout the 1970s, was based on an S-Class production car (W 116) and offered that car’s protective features as well as modifications with special design solutions for the car to pass the frontal impact test at 65 km/h against a rigid barrier. The ESF 24 represented for Mercedes-Benz the conclusion of its involvement in the international ESV research program, “since this vehicle provides an optimum compromise between the original ESV requirements and our current production car,” as it was described in a development report of 1975. The ESV program was initiated in 1970 by the US Ministry of Transport and called upon car manufacturers to design safety cars that satisfied extreme demands in terms of active and passive safety.
In the years that followed Daimler-Benz continued to use Britain as a venue to present innovative ideas from technology and research. At the “Drive Electric ’80” show, held in London from October13 – 20, 1980, for example, Daimler-Benz unveiled the 307 E electric van to an international public.
In December 2002 DaimlerChrysler finally acquired a majority stake in Mercedes-Ilmor where the engines for the Formula One Silver Arrows are built; then in late September 2005 the company, made up of Ilmor Engineering Ltd. and the German manufacturer, became a wholly-owned subsidiary of DaimlerChrysler. Thereafter, the activities of Mercedes-Ilmor, which was renamed Mercedes-Benz High Performance Engines Ltd. in 2005, focused on Formula One activities. The department that dealt mainly with engine programs for the Indy Racing League and NASCAR as well as special engine projects was sold in mid-2005 to Penske Racing, Delaware, Mario Illien and Elizabeth Morgan.
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