AUTO BILD pays a visit to the Mercedes inspection and test center. On the 520-hectare site of a former German army barracks in Immendingen, 130 kilometers south of Stuttgart, test drivers have to torment the cars without regard for losses, that’s the job profile.
“Job or job, I have feelings too! Recently I was almost at the North Sea in Papenburg, twelve-kilometer circuit with steep curves. They chased me at full throttle over the asphalt, I was only allowed to breathe briefly when I refueled, then full throttle again.”
Mercedes is testing the new models everywhere, at minus 30 degrees in Lapland, at plus 50 in Dubai, on poor Spanish roads, on high-speed routes in Nardò (Italy) or Papenburg in Emsland. And in Immendingen, 68 kilometers of road or gravel, international traffic signs and road markings.
Last resort before series production
“We are the final authority before series production and see ourselves here as the customer’s advocate,” says Frank Jäger, head of the test center with 300 employees, including over 100 test drivers. That sounds like an advertising slogan, but it has a deeper meaning.
At the end of the 1990s, cutbacks ruled at Daimler, resulting in rusting E-Classes of the 210 series (1995-2002) or rotting C-Classes of the 203 type (2000-2007). Then, twelve years ago, of all times, when the brown plague was raging among young C and E classes, Mercedes invented the slogan “The best or nothing” at exactly that moment, and many laughed.
Defined tasks for each shift
“Guys, am I a taxi, or what? Always just stop-and-go and engine off, engine on again and again, at most 30 km/h, and that for hours. Nobody out there does that!”
Simon Wanner drives our GLC prototype, a small box from Motorola is stuck to the bottom of the windscreen, the “on-board unit” (OBU). The tasks for his shift come through them, the 31-year-old works through the program that the engineer sets for him.
Sometimes during a shift he has to operate the windows or the electric boot lid countless times. Now he drives from Poststraße to Badeweg, across a roundabout to Theaterweg, stops at the red traffic light and, for once, doesn’t have to share the course with 20 other cars share.
Computer in the trunk records everything
“These exercises used to take place in Stuttgart traffic,” he says. “It’s much easier for us here, and the results are also reproducible.” If, for example, the traffic sign recognition misses something or the chassis makes noises – the computer in the trunk records everything and forwards the results to the engineer in real time.
“You sit cool on your leather chairs and the gravel stones fly against the air conditioning compressor, not to mention the dust in every crack. Thanks for that!”
Mercedes regularly has the tractor smooth out the gravel so that the pain for the car is always the same. And they had the “Heidestrecke” built, a 75-year-old mogul slope on the Lüneburg Heath.
Nothing better than bad roads
To do this, meter by meter was cast in plaster and the copy built into the road network of the test center. To test the durability of the chassis or the rigidity of the body, there is nothing better than bad roads.
In Immendingen they work in three shifts, seven days a week. The early shift runs from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., then comes the late shift. The night shift takes over at 10 p.m. Depending on the task, Wanner and his colleagues drive up to 700 kilometers in eight hours. “But only if a lot of freeway testing is required,” says the 31-year-old automotive mechatronics technician, “on average it’s 450 kilometers.”
And in every shift there is a different car. “We want our drivers to push all the buttons, they should play, test as many functions as possible,” says Jäger, the boss. And, of course, note everything, including interruptions in the assistants or rattling noises. Because a Mercedes mustn’t rattle, not even on the Heide route.
They marked the concrete hills like skiing, “red slope” up to 60 km/h, black up to 30. We ski “red”, spring struts at the stop, again and again.
“I have to do this nonsense for a hundred kilometers, and I would love to drive to the Aldi around the corner in a relaxed way.”