The generational conflict kicks off with the key question: Who’s driving? The answer is quickly found: Dad is! Franz Joseph and Jacqueline Blomendahl are outside their house in Grabouw, South Africa, 50 kilometres from Cape Town. They get into a brand new Mercedes-Benz GLE 550e 4MATIC SUV and shut the doors. The scent of leather. The large, central display. Franz Joseph takes hold of the steering wheel, his daughter runs her hand over the touchpad on the centre console.
Franz Joseph Blomendahl has always driven Mercedes-Benz vehicles. At the age of 18, he bought his first 240 D, a “Stroke 8,” and now the winemaker owns two SL Cabriolets, a white S 500 of the 221 model series, and a C-Class Wagon. But now he wants to experience something new: A vehicle that leads the way into the future, ushering in a new generation of vehicles with its hybrid technology. With various modern assistance systems, including the ionization of the cabin air, the GLE 550e has many innovations that make driving safer, more efficient and more pleasant. In particular, it thinks ahead when it comes to protecting the environment.
This is Franz Joseph’s first time sitting in a vehicle with a combined electric drive and V6 engine. A plug-in hybrid. A luxurious off-road model with a lithium-ion battery under the hood to power the car for 30 kilometres of electric driving at speeds of up to 120 km/h. It can be charged via a normal power outlet and achieves a local CO2 emissions figure of 0 g/km when driven electrically. Blomendahl puts his foot on the brake and presses the starter button. They are ready to roll.
It’s a clever car. A car that uses less and less fuel.” Jacqueline Blomendahl
FATHER: Listen, you can’t hear anything. Absolutely quiet. I can’t believe it.
DAUGHTER: It’s about time, then! It’s a clever car. A car that uses less and less fuel. That’s the direction we have to head in.
FATHER: When you brake, you gain energy. The principle is called recuperation. The battery also recharges itself while you’re driving. Brilliant, isn’t it? You don’t have to waste any energy.
DAUGHTER: Clever. But they could’ve thought about that earlier.
FATHER: Do you know how complicated it is to develop technologies like these? Your generation is always demanding an emissions-free future, but you can’t just drive off into it like it’s the easiest thing. It takes time. Thousands of people are working on it.
DAUGHTER: I think you can start driving now.
Franz Joseph steps on the right pedal, the accelerator. But he doesn’t hit the gas – he hits the electricity. Almost soundlessly, the car glides out of the gate onto the street, out into the wine region of Grabouw & Elgin. Cypresses, cacti and blossoming proteas are growing up the mountainsides. The world folding itself into the mountains to the east of Cape Town is almost Mediterranean. South Africa in winter. An inspiring image.
The fact that father and daughter are on a low-emissions voyage is particularly significant to Jacqueline Blomendahl. For her, the term is not some kind of slogan, it carries meaning in itself. When her family was living in Germany, she suffered from bronchitis and asthma, as well as various allergies. On her way to school, she had rattling coughs. Her doctor recommended a lengthy period in a dry climate with clean air. So, the Blomendahls travelled to South Africa for a long holiday. And, lo and behold, after a week Jacqueline was without any complaints and could breathe freely for the first time in her life. This was a huge weight off her shoulders, and a huge relief for her parents.
So Franz Joseph, a trained wine engineer, winemaker and whisky producer, looked for opportunities to relocate his business. He saw the vineyards, the hills and mountains near Cape Town. He felt the sun. The Blomendahls didn’t hesitate for long: They packed their bags and moved to South Africa.
They turn west, following the country road to Gordon’s Bay. The wild South Atlantic appears in the vista of the windshield. A swell several metres high is rolling in from the Antarctic. But the Blomendahls aren’t distracted by this natural beauty. Their attention is completely immersed in the GLE.
DAUGHTER: What’s that? Something red is shining in your side mirror.
FATHER: That’s the Blind Spot Assist. It tells you when something is coming diagonally from behind that you can’t see without looking over your shoulder.
DAUGHTER: I’m telling you, the car thinks for itself. It’s got its eyes on everything. Can I please drive now?
FATHER: Yes, in a moment.
Jacqueline, like any member of the digital generation, swipes the touchpad with her fingers, accessing the various functions of the GLE on the screen. Graphics appear, displaying the consumption and energy flow. The car basically explains itself. Its smart technology accompanies driver and passenger as they roll through the Cape Province along the coastal cliff toward Sparks Bay and Mermaid Pool.
DAUGHTER: Look, I can control and recognize everything from here – all the colours of ambient lighting, Crosswind Assist, Traffic Sign Assist. Dad, the battery is at 70 percent. We’re driving in hybrid mode.
FATHER: I didn’t do anything.
DAUGHTER: It does it by itself. Is it my turn now?
FATHER: Yes, in a moment.
They drive along Ocean Road. Breaking waves crash against the shoreline, the coastal cliffs glow in the east, a mild breeze gently blows in through the window. Franz Joseph drives the car onto a dirt track, around a rock, and stops at the sea. In the grass by the road is a pale stone with the inscription “David Lilienfeld – Warrior.” Lilienfeld was one of South Africa’s finest bodyboarders. When he was surfing the waves here in the Koeël Bay on April 19, 2012, a four-metre-long great white shark attacked him. Lilienfeld died shortly afterwards. South Africa isn’t always mild.
Franz Joseph looks out to the open sea and breathes the air. As a winemaker, he appreciates the South African climate for the vines more than the perfect waves. He has been producing his own wines here for many years. Each year, he exports some 50,000 bottles to China, Africa and Germany. Distinguished wines, high-quality brandy, whisky and liqueur, such as the “Old Swede,” which he makes in his own distillery.
On the trip north, the Hottentots Holland Mountains rise into view in the hinterland. Thanks to the hybrid drive, the GLE alternates between electricity and gas mode. First a quiet purring, then the full sound of the combustion engine. Franz Joseph steers the car along the curves with precision, glides along serpentines and country roads.
Step on the gas a bit, then you can feel what it can do.” Franz Joseph Blomendahl
DAUGHTER: So, now I can drive?
FATHER: Okay, okay. I’ll get out.
DAUGHTER: It’s crazy, we are only using electricity at the moment. Our battery level is at 50 percent. And in a full-fledged SUV, no less.
FATHER: But if you step on the gas a bit, then you can feel what it can do.
DAUGHTER: Why not… you know how much I like to drive fast!
They have swapped seats. Jacqueline steps on the pedal. The V6 motor springs into action and now shows its full strength. The GLE dashes north on the highway. When kickdown is activated, the electric drive is spurred, giving an extra-big boost. Soon, the famous wine regions of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek, their gently rolling hills bathed in the rosé-coloured afternoon sun, will rise up in the distance. But then Jacqueline brakes, signals, turns left onto a dusty track and stops at the side. She has spotted a gang of monkeys.
DAUGHTER: Look, there are baboons climbing around. An entire family.
FATHER: Let’s see what they’re doing.
DAUGHTER: Normally, they would escape into the trees, but I’ll drive toward them carefully. That way we won’t disturb them.
FATHER: This beats any clattering safari bus. Silent through the wilderness.
DAUGHTER: I told you so. Quiet and clean, that’s the direction we are heading. Even the monkeys can’t say no to that!