Connected cars are notjust a thing from this century. Mercedes Benz showed the first connected concept car twenty-five years ago in 1991, the F 100 research vehicle. It featured a voice-controlled car telephone, autonomous intelligent cruise control, xenon headlamps, rear camera, blind spot alert, lane keeping and a chip card as the vehicle key. It also had is own fax machine and personal computer.
In January 1991, Mercedes-Benz unveiled the research vehicle at the NAIAS show in Detroit, starting its family of models: the F 100 was the first Mercedes-Benz research vehicle to feature an “F” in its name.
With many of its systems, the F 100 anticipated solutions that were in future years to give rise to the connected car.
There is a voice-controlled telephone system and the central display, on which the vehicle system automatically showed the key information in every situation – such as the current speed or warnings about traffic in the area around the vehicle. It had a reversing camera, distance-warning radar and a further radar system that monitored the traffic behind the F 100 and warned of vehicles in the blind spot if the driver indicated to change lane. Automatic lane keeping was also possible.
Other electronic assistance systems in the F 100 included access to the car by chip card instead of a conventional key, electric motors to control the adjustment of seat and steering wheel, mobile fax and a permanently installed personal computer. The power supply was assisted by solar cells in the roof with an area of almost two square metres and an output of up to 100 watts.
The research vehicle also adopted a new approach to lighting technology: the highly compact headlamps were the first from Mercedes-Benz to use gas-discharge lamps. This technology was later to become known under the name of xenon headlamps. The tail lamps were of transparent prism rods that served as light conductors and were activated from a central light source in the appropriate color depending on the required function.
In 1991, the F 100 was clearly a member of the group of visionary research vehicles. It was employed by the engineers and designers to implement key findings in relation to future demands on vehicle technology. Among other things, the research vehicle incorporated findings from accident/social research: as a typical passenger car carries an average of between 1.2 and 1.7 people in everyday use, the developers positioned the driver in the center of the passenger cell – the safest place inside the vehicle. This made the innovations in terms of crash safety for the driver even more effective. The occupants in the second row were seated to the left and right behind the driver. Two further passengers were given seats towards the centre between the sturdy rear wheelhouses. The body of the F 100 with its steeply raked rear end anticipated the trend of future years, in which there was an increasing demand for spacious estate cars and other vehicles.
The innovative spatial concept of the interior was matched by new-type doors: access to the driver’s seat was by means of rotating-swivelling doors, which took parts of the vehicle floor and roof with them when opened. When they were closed, mechanical locking mechanisms in three places ensured firm, reliable closing. In this way, the F 100 made up for the slender waistline in the vehicle floor and the design with no B-pillar between the front doors and the space-saving, rear pivot-and-slide doors.
Another first from Mercedes-Benz was the front-wheel drive of the F 100. The engineers experimented with various engine concepts in the research vehicle, including a modified internal combustion engine that ran on hydrogen. Further innovations included a sandwich floor and electronic tyre pressure monitoring.
In the sum of its features and design details, the F 100 predicted car features of the future, except for the fax machine which in the future could be replaced with Skype or MS Word.
In addition to its research vehicles, Mercedes-Benz also develops technology vehicles, test vehicles, concept vehicles and one-off vehicles in advance of new standard-production models.