Sunday, 2024 July 21

Mercedes-Benz to rev up intelligent driving with new all-electric CLA

Mercedes-Benz has reportedly confirmed the use of Nvidia’s Orin chip for its new all-electric CLA model, featuring an advanced intelligent driving system provided by Momenta. This system, which does not rely on high-definition maps, will enable urban navigation assistance. Production is set to begin in April 2025.

36Kr sought confirmation from Mercedes-Benz regarding this development, but the company declined to comment.

Meanwhile, the Chinese intelligent driving market has become highly competitive. Huawei has already rolled out a nationwide navigation assistance feature, while other players like Li Auto, Xiaomi Auto, Nio, and Xpeng Motors have shifted their focus from heavy high-definition map solutions to light or even map-free solutions. They plan to fully deliver these products across China in the latter half of this year.

In comparison, high-end brands like Mercedes-Benz have been slower in their progress. The company’s latest update was at the end of 2023, with the new E-class long-wheelbase version supporting navigation assistance in highway driving scenarios. The absence of advanced intelligent driving features has weakened Mercedes-Benz’s premium appeal, limiting sales growth. In 2024, as intelligent driving technology progresses rapidly in China, Mercedes-Benz’s sales and market share have shown a downward trend.

Mercedes-Benz provided rounded figures for FY2022 and FY2023. FY2021 data from Mercedes-Benz covers the following regions: Europe, North America, and the Asia Pacific. The displayed values are estimates and are provided solely for reference purposes. Data source: Mercedes-Benz

In response, Mercedes-Benz is collaborating with Momenta—the first time the company has adopted a technical solution from a domestic developer of intelligent driving solutions. The new all-electric CLA will be the first model by Mercedes-Benz to feature urban navigation assistance, marking a significant step for the company as it shifts its strategy toward faster innovation.

The CLA is an important model in Mercedes-Benz’s coupe lineup, targeting younger, more fashionable, and sportier customers who are more receptive to advanced intelligent driving features. The new CLA offers a pure electric version on the MMA platform, Mercedes-Benz’s second all-electric platform. It represents a significant technological shift, supporting an 800-volt electrical architecture and up to 250 kilowatts of charging power. The cabin will feature Mercedes-Benz’s self-developed MB.OS operating system, offering higher computing power and stronger interaction capabilities compared to the third-generation MBUX system, even incorporating large language models to enhance user experience.

With setbacks in the EQ series, Mercedes-Benz needs the MMA platform to establish a new electric technology and image. The technology development and supply chain planning for the MMA platform will also be applied to the next generation of mainstream all-electric platforms. As such, the advanced intelligent driving features on the all-electric CLA are envisioned to become standard on Mercedes-Benz’s next generation of models.

Placing greater emphasis on R&D in China

As a globally renowned car brand, Mercedes-Benz’s investment and progress in intelligent driving have always been closely watched. In early 2017, less than six months after Momenta was founded, Daimler Group, Mercedes-Benz’s parent company, participated in its Series B financing, becoming one of the first multinational car companies to focus on advanced intelligent driving in China. Mercedes-Benz further invested in Momenta’s Series C financing in 2021.

While investing in startups, Mercedes-Benz also reached an agreement to collaborate with Nvidia in 2020, covering autonomous driving and intelligent cockpits. Nvidia provides artificial intelligence software architecture for Mercedes-Benz’s next generation of models. Mercedes-Benz plans to support advanced intelligent driving features across three of its product lines, according to 36Kr.

The new E-class long-wheelbase version, released at the end of 2023, features highway navigation assistance developed by Mercedes-Benz China’s R&D team. This team, now hundreds strong, is said to have completed the project from start to finish in just 12 months. The CLA model on the MMA platform leverages Momenta’s software solution and will enter mass production in April 2025, simultaneously launching point-to-point navigation assistance.

The new Mercedes CLA Coupé. Source: Mercedes Benz

Software development for the EQS and S-class models is handled by Nvidia, led by Wu Xinyu, former head of autonomous driving at Xpeng. With the support from Nvidia, the company’s Chinese team accelerated development, commencing road tests at the end of 2023, though the exact launch date remains unclear.

Wang Xin, who leads R&D for autonomous driving and connected vehicles at Mercedes-Benz China, said that the local R&D team is a crucial part of Mercedes-Benz’s global R&D network. The autonomous parking function, for example, was led by the Chinese team and later promoted globally. Rapid progress made in such instances has compelled Mercedes-Benz to pay more attention to R&D in China.

An insider told 36Kr that, due to changes in international relations, Mercedes-Benz is considering further localization of intelligent driving features rated at or above Level 2, with future high-level features in China potentially being entirely developed by local teams or suppliers.

Lagging in technology, rich expertise as Mercedes-Benz’s defense

Intelligent driving, particularly at and beyond Level 2, is a key focus for the Chinese new energy vehicle market in 2024. Xiaomi’s SU7, which challenges Mercedes-Benz’s C-class models, will be equipped with an urban navigate-on-autopilot (NOA) feature in August this year. The M7 model from Aito, which competes with Mercedes-Benz’s mid- to large-sized SUVs, already supports map-free navigation assistance in urban driving scenarios across all models.

Xiaomi made a strong debut in the electric vehicle market when it formally launched its first model, the SU7, earlier this year. The SU7 was said to have attracted over 50,000 advance orders a mere 27 minutes after its release. Image credits of Xiaomi.

The Mercedes-Benz CLA, which will start mass production in April 2025, will face stronger competitors with iterative and data-trained systems. A person with knowledge of the project told 36Kr that the CLA uses a combination of light detection and ranging (LiDAR), millimeter-wave radar, and cameras, with hardware configurations significantly improved and software developed by local suppliers.

Mercedes-Benz appears to have quickly caught up, but it has more ground to make up. On June 1, Richard Yu (also known as Yu Chengdong), CEO of domestic rival Huawei, said that his company could easily implement Level 3 autonomous driving features in Europe. However, Huawei’s primary market remains domestic, with only a few automotive traders involved in parallel exports of Aito’s models. Huawei’s overseas expansion in intelligent driving still needs more sales carriers.

As a longstanding automaker, Mercedes-Benz has rich expertise it can rely on. Since 2021, Mercedes-Benz has successively obtained commercial licenses for Level 3 autonomous driving and Level 4 unmanned parking in Germany. In 2023, Mercedes-Benz’s Level 3 autonomous driving system received commercial licenses in Nevada and California, and testing licenses in Beijing and Shanghai.

Mercedes-Benz will initially launch Level 3 autonomous driving features in regions where it has commercial licenses in Germany and the US. More comprehensive autonomous driving qualifications and a global sales market may indeed help Mercedes-Benz gain a lead in overseas markets. However, since the Chinese market accounts for one-third of Mercedes-Benz’s sales, with its technology quickly spreading overseas, winning the Chinese market is fundamental for Mercedes-Benz to succeed globally.

KrASIA Connection
KrASIA Connection
KrASIA Connection features translated and adapted high-quality insights published on 36Kr.com, the largest and most influential technology portal in Chinese language with over 150 million readers across the globe.
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