PARIS -- Dieter Zetsche's long and varied career -- he arrived in America 25 years ago to head Freightliner and has been CEO of Daimler for more than a decade -- is far from finished. At 63, Zetsche has launched an intense effort to remake Mercedes-Benz -- focusing on the distant future of a company whose founder invented the automobile.
In a wide-ranging interview with Automotive News editors and reporters last month at the Paris auto show, Zetsche laid out an ambitious strategy that includes electric vehicles, self-driving and mobility initiatives -- all areas in which he has Mercedes well-positioned.
"I'm bullish about these changes ahead of us," he said.
Zetsche -- still a familiar name in the U.S. after he led Chrysler from 2000 to 2005 -- unveiled in Paris a plan to launch 10 EVs under a new subbrand: EQ. The goal? Make Mercedes the market leader in premium electric cars by 2025.
And the EV blitz is just one element of a far-reaching effort to reshape Mercedes.
"In all of these fields, you have to invest to be prepared for the future," Zetsche said. "But that's exciting, and that's the world as it presents itself. All of these developments are not happening for technology's sake but because you can offer better and more service to your customers, which ultimately is the basis for the top line and for your future success."
Zetsche, whose contract runs through 2019, called the interaction of the new trends "the most exciting and most unknown territory we're embarking on."
Integrating the developments into Mercedes' traditional processes will be the task of a newly formed unit dubbed CASE -- an acronym for the connected, autonomous, shared and electric car trends upending the industry.
Daimler AG is known for strict hierarchies, but the CEO has pushed for highly entrepreneurial "swarm organizations" inside Daimler to speed decision-making and empower staff. The idea is to remove layers of bureaucracy and encourage a more experimental approach to new products.
"We do believe that building boxes and having lines of reporting and rigid walls of who does what and where is the exact opposite of what we need," Zetsche said. "We want that to evolve. What we have on the paper today or in our heads might be different here a year from now or two. We don't know. We don't know where we're heading, and that's exactly the essence of this kind of new topics we're going to pursue."