Mercedes-Benz Bionic was bait

Car of the Day 2024 #3: Maybe we’re misremembering the Mercedes-Benz Bionic

Mercedes-Benz Bionic was bait
2005 Mercedes-Benz Bionic concept car

When you go back and read articles on the 2005 Bionic concept car, most are only comfortable pointing out its weird looks and how it is said to have an admirably low coefficient of drag (0.19 Cd) and highly efficient (~4.3 L/100 km) projected combined fuel economy. 

With development stretching as far back as 1996, the Bionic was eventually a running, driving prototype using largely proven parts—including its small diesel engine and Autotronic CVT transmission.

Also in 2005, Mercedes-Benz had a strong year with more than 1.2 million vehicles sold. Approximately 50,000 were S Class models, it launched a revised M Class SUV and delivered its run of 500 Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren supercars. Two years later it would divorce itself from its American division and dissolve DaimlerChrysler.

I’m not suggesting Mercedes-Benz owes us a lineup of Ostracion cubicus-shaped vehicles, I’m wondering why we still accept vehicular distractions from insincere corporations (see also Vision EQXX and Vision AVTR and Vision One-Eleven and…)

We do get exceedingly futuristic vehicles from time to time, think Volkswagen XL1, but without a concentrated effort to cultivate the innovations and personnel key to development, a typical automaker’s corporate love language torpedos any lessons learned for transitioning past inefficient internal combustion products.

side of green 2005 Mercedes-Benz Bionic concept car
2005 Mercedes-Benz Bionic concept car

I’m no longer looking back fondly at hiccups like this if there hasn’t been meaningful follow-through. To be clear, I can appreciate the work that went into creating machines like the Bionic but must also call out the continued choice of decision-makers leave real-world efficiency off of their list of priorities. 

Surely an automaker capable of funding a Formula 1 team and building a road-going hypercar around a ‘Formula 1’ engine can consistently put a few oddly-shaped, hilariously efficient vehicles into limited production…

Beyond this yellow boxfish, which other concepts have been used as red herrings?

Before you write off the Bionic, consider we can learn one thing from it: if a concept sounds too good to be true, it’s probably bait for car nerds like us.

“Mercedes-Benz may have completely misunderstood the boxfish. According to a new paper in Journal of the Royal Society Interface, the company misinterpreted the fundamental hydrodynamic profile of this fish, and by logical extension, the Bionic concept car as well. The authors, researchers at the University of Antwerp in Belgium, the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, and UCLA, contend that the boxfish body shape does not particularly excel at drag reduction. Not only that, but it actually promotes instability while swimming, rather than minimizing it. This contradicts the entire premise behind Mercedes-Benz’s bionics-driven concept car.”

A Real Drag: Mercedes-Benz modeled a car on the boxfish. Only it completely misunderstood the boxfish

– Jake Buehler for Slate (2015)

Nobody wants to sit at a keyboard and type, again, that General Motors is tripping over its shoelaces when it comes to selling electric vehicles. Is there medication or a specialist we could refer GM to?

If there’s a word for corporate dementia I’d love to hear it. via @johnvoelcker

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