LAS VEGAS -- Mercedes-Benz boss Dieter Zetsche characteristically seemed to enjoy his status as a car guy amid the computer nerds at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show.
"I just came from Detroit yesterday, where some people consider consumer electronics to be a mere accessory to the car, and now I am here at CES where some people think the car is a mere accessory to the consumer electronics," he said in a keynote speech on Tuesday at the event.
Zetsche introduced mbrace2, the second generation of the Mercedes-Benz mbrace (pronounced "embrace") system. He relied on video to explain the features and many other new concepts that Mercedes-Benz and the Smart brand have in the works, such as ride-sharing and "connected" cars that communicate with each other and with the infrastructure.
He was visibly more comfortable introducing the 2013 Mercedes-Benz SL, which will be the first car to get the new system. Zetsche said one advantage of the new system is that it can be updated remotely. Instead of a seven-year development cycle, the system can approach the six- or seven-month development cycle for consumer electronics.
"I'm not here to sell you some age-reducing cream, although, the SL has been known to make people feel younger," he joked.
Zetsche told the audience that Mercedes-Benz was the first automotive brand to employ voice recognition, for its early car phones, starting in 1996. He admitted that the early system was "like Forrest Gump...It wasn't that the system didn't work; it was simple, good-natured but somewhat lacking in intelligence," he said.
After the presentation, Gary Shapiro, CEO of the host Consumer Electronics Association, welcomed Zetsche's first appearance at CES. Shapiro didn't mention it, but Ford CEO Alan Mulally has become a feature at CES, giving a keynote speech three years in a row.
Shapiro said it's too bad Zetsche hasn't been to CES before. Zetsche returned the ribbing, saying, "Maybe you never invited us before."