There’s a neat bit of dystopian future-gazing in the brilliant Blade Runner 2049 that refers to something called the ‘Blackout.’ Details are sketchy, but it seems an EMP—electromagnetic pulse—has knocked out the grid at some point, destroying all electronic records and data. It makes life way harder for the film’s hero, K (Ryan Gosling).
He ought to try operating the new Mercedes-Benz S-Class. Or indeed trying to get a reservation at certain restaurants. Yesterday, I met someone from a ‘fintech’—a portmanteau of finance and technology—company called Klarna, which is disrupting the whole credit-card model. What they all have in common is a heavy reliance on an app, along with pretty much everything else in 2022—parking, vaccination status, streaming, fast-food delivery (that last one...how lazy do you have to be?).
Aware of Merc’s massive push toward the rapidly evolving online economy, a product expert was dispatched to take me through the S-Class’s bewildering world of opportunity. His name was David Axford, and he was very tall and equally patient. This was immediately tested when he asked me to download the Mercedes Me App, at which point I told him my iPhone was so full, I didn’t think there would be space.
You can now drive home the all-new Mercedes-Benz S-Class for P17,890,000
I was correct; now I know what crestfallen looks like. Anyway, I could have migrated a lot of the rubbish clogging up my phone—including a load of novelty apps like the one that mimics a Moog synthesizer—to the iCloud, but having dropped the phone a week earlier, and watching its battery life fall off a cliff as only a three-year-old iPhone can do, I upgraded to a new one.
So yes, on one level, I ponied up for a new phone so I could have a more emotionally enriching relationship with a car.
Of course, this has all been going on for a while. EVs lean into this stuff very heavily, but the S-Class still ups the ante. So I can now use my phone to park the the car remotely (haven’t tried it yet—need a few brave pills for that one), optimize the navigation, receive alerts if the car comes under attack, use it as a mobile office, beef up the MBUX voice assistant (the best I’ve yet used in a car), get tips on wellbeing and mindfulness, and integrate with ‘smart home’ (if I buy the right kit from Merc’s preferred suppliers).
I can also do less expensive things like check the tire pressures and fuel level, and preheat the cabin. All just the tip of a very big and profitable iceberg.
“We made a choice several years ago to massively increase our investment in the digital space,” Daimler CEO Ola Källenius told me last year. “We’ve been recruiting and building up digital hubs around the world. In Silicon Valley, in Stuttgart, in Beijing and Berlin, and our cloud computing team is in Seattle. So this isn’t something that’s entirely new for us, but it’s a must if you want to be a leading luxury brand. People want this tech, and what comes with it. So we’re not just doing it to satisfy our engineering dreams, this is hardcore business.
“We’ve been looking at recurring revenues: There are some things that can be turned into subscriptions or individual buys, at point of sale and afterwards. The more features we add, the more opportunities we have. There are some things you expect a Mercedes to have, and some we can charge for.” The German carmaker is targetting €1 billion (P58.5 billion) profit from this by 2025...
K’s car could fly in Blade Runner. Imagine the app for that.
NOTE: This article first appeared on TopGear.com. Minor edits have been made.