On the surface, it would seem hard to argue that a 600+ horsepower, 280km/h sports sedan is in any way “representative” of where the mainstream of the automotive industry currently finds itself. But in fact, peel away the superlatives, and beneath the surface of the new-for-2023 Mercedes-AMG C63, you’ll find some of the clearest indicators yet of this season’s most important automotive megatrends. Megatrends, by the way, that are already reshaping what every automotive technician’s future will look like very soon.
To understand why, it’s important to pay homage for just a moment to the car industry that we are rapidly leaving behind. Not a decade ago, Mercedes’ high-performance C63 represented the pinnacle of the internal combustion engine’s development. It may have been an expensive folly – the preserve of a lucky few – but it nevertheless was a northstar for a deeply-evolved and very aspirational concept that focussed on delivering an emotional, uncompromised, mechanical experience – based on that most animalistic of ideas: the V8. If any car seemed impervious to trendy, progressive ideas about eco-mindedness, “right-sizing” and quenching the petrol thirst, the C63 stood rock solid, head and shoulders above the rest.
Oh how things have changed now though. Few U-turns in automotive thinking have been quite so profound as the decision to jettison the iconic AMG V8 in favour of a radically new four-cylinder, electrically-turbocharged, plug-in hybrid powertrain in the latest C63. Not least because more than anything, it proves that even the industry’s most sacred cows are now being slain in the face of a massively changed automotive landscape, which will spare no mercy for those players who stubbornly refuse to adapt.
So the new C63, despite being essentially a very expensive toy, makes a very salutary point. Put simply, anyone who still harbours any thought that the enormous winds of change blowing through the car industry might suddenly die down, or even reverse their course, is sorely mistaken. We are in a new paradigm of automotive engineering – where the old guard of established players have been caught somewhat off the pace by the blindingly-quick arrival of new concepts in vehicle efficiency and electrification. Mainstream customer expectations – previously thought to lag behind the early-adopter market shifters like Tesla – are now suddenly surging ahead, and every single one of the traditional automakers finds itself having to adapt both its products and its brand ‘experience’ to customers who now expect far different things to those a decade or two before.
Frankly, those of us in the automotive technical space have never really experienced anything quite like this. Yes, there have been key step-changes in technology that have defined the evolution of the automobile, and yes, the pace of change in the mainstream deployment of this technology increased substantially from the 1990s in particular. During the earliest of these rolling change waves, technicians could just about afford to stay one step back from the cutting edge, to judge whether the arrival of certain technologies represented something to them and their livelihoods. Fuel-injection, ABS, OBD II, dual-clutch transmissions, the first hybrid drivetrains, etc, etc. Yet at the core of the vehicle the same basic, mechanical concepts remained reasonably steadfast. Complacency in adapting yourself as a technician was therefore unwise, but not fatal.
Now though, the core is no more. With the great monuments like the C63’s V8 falling, and the real thrust of powertrain design moving indisputably towards optimising the full battery-electric concept for mass consumption and adoption, technicians simply cannot afford to indulge in any complacent or wishful yearning for a past that is rapidly leaving us. Instead, it’s about embracing the opportunities for personal development that inevitably arise in a world trying to implement major changes to the car as we know it.
Come back to the C63 as a case in point. Look at the sheer amount of extraordinary technology embedded in this single vehicle. An electric supercharger running off a 400-volt onboard electrical system. A 6.1kWh lithium-ion battery capable of fast, plug-in recharging. A rear-mounted, 200 horsepower electric motor powering a separate, two-speed gearbox. A regenerative braking system with the capacity to harvest up to 100kw of electricity under hard braking. Intelligent, hybrid all-wheel-drive and AMG electric four-wheel-steering.
It is simply an amazing piece of automotive technology – all implemented because a company like Mercedes recognises that it can no longer simply rest on its laurels and regurgitate another evolution of its favourite old concepts. What’s more, if we cast our eye even further ahead, it’s very likely that the variant after this won’t even sport a combustion engine at all.
Every technician reading this article, though, should not be intimidated by what cars like this are now offering. Far from it – we should instead embrace the opportunity with open arms and fit ourselves up to be the people who can confidently deal with any such tech, when – inevitably – these vehicles find their way into our workshops. The difference now is that the process of learning about this technology is, frankly, on another planet compared to how technicians of 20 and 30 years ago trained on anti-lock braking systems and fuel-injection. The online world today offers such vast treasure troves of knowledge at a moment’s glance – so the challenge is not so much finding information, as finding the right information from the best and most reliable sources.
Online training products like Autodata’s fully-digitised, on-demand video training, really are the ideal tools for the job in hand. Without intruding into your busy day-to-day, they allow you to constantly ‘top-up’ your knowledge as new and interesting technology comes onto the market. By chipping away at your training each week, at the most convenient time and without the pressure of face-to-face learning, every technician can keep themselves keyed into the latest concepts without fear of falling off the pace. In a world as fast-moving as ours, training this good is a luxury you simply can’t afford to live without.