Design

Tiller to command center: Mercedes-Benz has spent 120 years perfecting steering wheels

The steering wheel has come a long way, and Mercedes-Benz has been on the cutting edge of steering wheel technology for more than a century.

Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

What makes a steering wheel perfect? It needs to be the right size, feel good in your hands, and connect with the vehicle delivering a level of responsiveness that makes the drive to be exactly what you want and expect. Some say the best steering wheels also have controls for the stereo system, crash avoidance features, and cruise control. Others would say that the best steering wheels have none of those controls - that a horn is all it needs.

Mercedes-Benz has been on the cutting edge of steering wheel technology for over a century, starting in the 1800s and through to this month's reveal of the next-generation E-Class, which features capacitive functionality for the first time.

Early years

Benz Patent-Motorwagen, 1886

Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

Mercedes-Benz has spent 120 years working to improve the steering wheel. But, the first Mercedes vehicle didn't have one. The year was 1886 and Carl Benz's first patent motor car, the Benz Patent-Motorwagen (shown above), like that designed by Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach in 1889, did not have a wheel or steering crank. Back then, drivers were used to pulling on horse reins and operating carriages accordingly.

The first steering wheel

Erste Automobilwettfahrt, Paris-Rouen, 1894

Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

While Benz, Daimler, and Maybach were some of the first motor vehicle engineers out of the gate, it's Alfred Vacheron that is considered the inventor of the steering wheel. The story goes that during the world's first automobile race (pictured above) – from Paris to Rouen, France in July 1894 – Vacheron installed a a wheel instead of the traditional steering lever in his Panhard & Levassor (powered by a Daimler engine, natch), which allowed him to have better control resulting in Vacheron's ability to safely go faster. He ended up placing 11th but the wheel trend had begun.

The Mercedes Simplex

MULI 0208, Mercedes Simplex

Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

Automobile racing was again at the forefront of innovation in 1900 when Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft equipped its Phoenix racing car with a steering wheel. In this instance, the steering column was tilted (it had been stiffly upright in the Vacheron car), which proved a worthy innovation.

Further, steering evolved in 1902 when the Mercedes Simplex (pictured above) had levers added to its heel that regulated engine ignition timing and the air/fuel mixture.

The 1920s through 1940s

Mercedes-Benz Typ 680 Modell S, 26/120/180 PS, 1927

Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

While engine design grew in sophistication and was refined, so too was the functionality of the steering wheel. As automobiles became more popular they not only had to contend with horses, carriages, buggies, and wagons but also with pedestrians, bicyclists, and other autos. Cars needed a communication device. Enter: the horn.

The horn started as a bulb horn mounted on the steering wheel rim which quickly evolved into a klaxon horn button on the steering wheel hub. By the 1920s, a horn ring on the steering wheel spokes had become standard equipment.

In 1949, the horn ring earned double duty serving as a turn signal as well. To indicated whether the vehicle was turning left or right, the ring simple needed to be turned left or right. Then, an approximately 20-centimeter-long indicator arm swung sideways out of the body, and indicated the direction of travel

Soon, these indicators would be replaced by orange-yellow flashing lights though they still remained activated by the ring.

The 1950s

Mercedes-Benz 220 S \u201cPonton\u201d saloon of the model series W 180/W 128, 1954 to 1959), interior with dashboard

Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

By the time the 1950s arrived, car designers had made the steering wheel a central interface between the driver and the car. More equipment was added including a gearshift on the steering column in 1951 in order to make the cabin more comfortable for the driver and passenger. By removing the shifter from the floor, the car's front bench seat could accommodate three people instead of the traditional two. This was first shown in the 300 "Adenauer-Mercedes" (W 186) and in the 220 (W 187) (shown above).

In 1955, Mercedes added a lever for headlamps. Power steering was introduced in 1958.

The 1960s

Mercedes-Benz Typ 220 Sb, Baureihe W 111

Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

While the 50s was all about function, the 1960s steering wheel was all about safety. The "Fintail" (W 111) (shown above) was the world's first vehicle to feature an integrated safety concept consisting of a stable passenger cell, crumple zones, a new safety steering wheel with a large, deformable baffle plate which reduced the risk of injury in the event of a collision, and a split steering column which was offset to the rear.

This innovation made is possible to avoid what was colloquially known as the "lance effect" during a crash, wherein the steering column and wheel would compress in the driver when the auto was crash head-on.

To further increase safety, Mercedes-Benz introduced a patented safety steering system with a telescopic steering column and impact absorber, which became standard on their entire passenger car range in 1967.

Indicator and headlight flasher functionality remained on the wheel. In 1963, the lever was extended to include the windshield wipers and windshield washer system functions. The windshield wiper was previously activated with a pull switch on top of the instrument panel.

The 1970s and 1980s

Mercedes-Benz type 350 SL of the 107 series (1971 \u2013 1989).

Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

Innovation continued at a rapid rate. The introduction of the 350 SL Roadster (shown above) in 1971 improved safety with a wide padded plate in the center of the steering wheel that was designed to absorb impact in the event of a crash.

The spokes served as supports for the rim. In the event of a crash, force was transferred to them in such a way as to ensure that the wheel would not break.

Buttons for the horn were moved to the center of the steering wheel while wiper, washer, headlamp, and indicator functionality remained.

In December 1975, the Mercedes-Benz 450 SEL 6.9 became one fo the first automobiles in the world to be equipped with a standard cruise control system. The world's first proximity cruise control system would be launched in the 1998 S-Class (220 series).

The first airbag was added to the steering wheel in 1981 in the S-Class (126 series), but the airbag's size was a recurring issue designers had to deal with. Eventually, the airbag would be able to be compacted more, allowing for more design freedom while delivering the same and better levels of safety. By 1992, a driver airbag was standard on all Mercedes models. Two years later a passenger airbag became standard equipment.

1998: The first multifunction steering wheel

Mercedes Benz S Class 220 model series (1998 to 2005)

Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

Mercedes-Benz steering wheels took a big leap forward in 1998 with the introduction of the multifunction steering wheel in the S-Class 220 (shown above). The driver was, for the first time, able to access their radio, car phone, and a driver's information display with eight menus from the steering wheel in addition to its traditional functionalities.

2005: The gearshift returns to the steering wheel

Mercedes-Benz S-Class 221 series Steering wheel and instrument cluster form the primary area of the newly developed operating concept of the S-Class.

Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

New M- and S-Class designs debuted in 2005 (S-Class 221 series shown above) and with them the automatic transmission gear shifter was moved to the steering column. Additionally, shift buttons were added to the selector making it easy for those wishing to choose their own gear to do so. Paddle shifters made their debut on 2008 on the SL Roadster.

Steering wheels were bulky due to the influx of airbag and infotainment functionality, which required cables, circuit boards, and sensors to be installed in the unit. Eventually, it would be able to be slimmed down as technology evolved.

2016: First touch-sensitive buttons

Mercedes-Benz E-Class (W 213) 2016

Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

The 2016 E-Class became the first car I the world to feature touch-sensitive buttons on its steering wheel. The technology featured the ability to control the entire infotainment system by swiping a finger across a pad on the steering wheel rather than taking taking your hands off the wheel. In addition to the pads, the wheel also had four buttons to the left and right of center that allows for volume control, phone call initiation and other functions.

2020: Capacitive Steering Wheel

Mercedes-Benz E-Klasse (W 213), 2020

Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz

The next generation of Mercedes-Benz steering wheel has been unveiled in the 2021 Mercedes-Benz E-Class. It features a two-zone sensor mat in the steering wheel rim that registers whether or not the wheel is being held. Unlike in systems by other manufacturers, no movement is required.

The Touch Control buttons have been integrated into the steering wheel spokes now also function capacitively. The panels are now flush and allow for swiping gestures as well as use in hot temperatures.

The new wheel is the same size as the one in the outgoing model.

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Nuts & Bolts

 
 

Lordstown Motors has its manufacturing facilities in Ohio.

Photo courtesy of Lordstown Motors

Lordstown Motors Corp. and DiamondPeak Holdings Corp. have entered into a definitive agreement for a business combination that would result in Lordstown becoming a publicly listed company. A statement released by the companies details that the combo company would be named Lordstown Motors Corp. and is expected to remain listed on the NASDAQ and trade under a new ticker symbol, "RIDE".

The deal is expected to be finalized in the fourth quarter of 2020.

2021 Lordstown Endurance The company debuted its Endurance pickup earlier this year. Photo courtesy of Lordstown Motors

As part of the agreement, Lordstown Motors will see an expected cash infusion of around $675 million of gross proceeds go directly to fund the production of the Endurance as well as producing the company's in-wheel electric hub motor.

Additionally, the transaction includes $500 million in fully committed private investment in public equity (PIPE), of which is a $75 million investment by General Motors. Also included in that investment list are funds from institutional investors, including Fidelity Management & Research Company LLC, Wellington Management Company LLP, Federated Hermes Kaufmann Small Cap Fund, and funds and accounts managed by BlackRock.

The pro forma implied equity value of the combined company is approximately $1.6 billion.

The combined company Board of Directors will include Steve Burns, Founder and CEO of Lordstown, and David Hamamoto, Chairman and CEO of DiamondPeak.

News of the merger comes on the heels of Lordstown Motors releasing a new ad for its all-electric Endurance pickup truck. The Endurance's interior was revealed last month.

The company aims to be the first full-size electric pickup truck designed to serve the U.S. commercial fleet market. Initial production expected in the second half of 2021. Numerous orders are already in place. The model's price tag is slated to start just over $52,000.

Lordstown Motors has its production facility at the former General Motors Lordstown Assembly plant in Ohio.

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Ford is launching a new aspect of its rewards program.

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

Ford Motor Company, in partnership with First National Bank of Omaha and Visa, is launching the FordPass Rewards Visa Card as part of a customer loyalty program expansion. FordPass first launched in 2019.

The credit card similar to credit card programs offered by General Motors and but Ford says that theirs offers a higher level of rewards than the other programs.

"Building trust and delivering the best ownership experience possible for our customers is our top priority at Ford," said David Loflin, manager, Customer Experience. "Not only does this card match the features of other major players in the credit card space, it offers customers a means to reduce the cost of ownership by redeeming Points to purchase, lease or service their vehicle."

FordPass Rewards Visa Card The card is available in two colors right off the bat.Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

In exchange for using their FordPass Rewards Visa Card to pay for purchases, customers can earn 10 percent Back in Points on Ford service. That 10 percent is an accumulation of five percent Back in Points in Ford dealership purchases and an equal percentage Back in Points with FordPass Rewards.

Customers also earn five percent Back in Points on Ford dealership purchases; three percent Back in Points in gas, auto insurance, tolls, parking, and dining expenses; and one percent Back in Points on all other purchases.

The credit card is the only co-branded card with an annual statement credit. Users get $200 each year when they spend $6,000 in 12 consecutive billing cycles after opening the account. Customers get a $100 statement credit when they spend $3,000 within the first three billing cycles after opening an account.

There is also low-interest financing for six billing cycles on Ford dealership purchases over $499.

Additionally, the card gets users access to more traditional FordPass Rewards opportunities. For example, in June FordPass Rewards gave its members access to one month of complimentary Postmates delivery service and deployed a complimentary The Works oil change and tire rotation to members deemed essential workers.

Currently, the FordPass Rewards program has enrolled more than 4.5 million members

Cardholders will be able to customize their FordPass Rewards Visa Card by checking the options box. The card is first available in a Model-A Black or Blue Oval Blue color scheme. Beginning with the Bronco brand and the all-new F-150, future iterations of the card will allow model-specific customization.

To learn more about the FordPass Rewards Visa Card and to apply, visit FordPassRewards.com/Visa.

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