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Mercedes-Benz reboots the ‘first modern car’ as a dashing EV concept

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The German automaker goes back to the future

Images: Daimler/Mercedes-Benz

Mercedes-Benz’s newest concept car is a reminder that the company pioneered the concept of cars.

The Vision Mercedes Simplex, unveiled late last week at the 2019 Frankfurt Motor Show, is essentially a modern-day reboot of the original Mercedes, the “35 PS” from 1901. Along with its successor, the original Simplex, the 35 PS helped kick off the era of the automobile, tipping the industry away from rickety, top-heavy wooden carriages that were retrofitted with engines.

Instead of cramming lots of typical concept-y ideas into the new Vision Mercedes Simplex (like the company did with the Vision EQS concept announced last week, or last year’s retro EQ Silver Arrow), the automaker has stayed fairly true to the original. Yes, a number of elements (like the radiator) are rimmed in rose gold, and yes, the grille has been replaced with a display that can feature “animations which provide information on the vehicle status,” according to the company. But the cockpit is a minimalist driver’s dream, with just a few small displays that the company says are focused on information that’s critical to driving.

Swapping an electric drivetrain of any spec into the Simplex style of car, which is more compact than modern cars, would give it a ton of extra pep. And since it was already built to have a lower center of gravity than the other proto-cars of its time, a new Simplex based on this concept would likely be a dream to drive.

There’s something fascinating about how Mercedes-Benz chose this particular Frankfurt Motor Show to debut the Vision Mercedes Simplex concept. The show, which like many other auto shows, is in decline. It was also met with thousands of protestors who were debating the necessity of cars in the face of a global climate crisis.

In the face of this reality, the Vision Mercedes Simplex is arguably a frivolous endeavor. But if the future really consists of an overall reduction in the presence and influence of cars, and the ones that remain become increasingly automated in their operation, I can see why automakers like Mercedes-Benz might try to maintain a niche for people who are still hell-bent on driving. And what better way to try than to revive the car that got it all started?