Dr.-Ing. Laura Beilstein is the “CO2 champion“ at smart. It’s a punchy term for one of the brand’s key challenges: the coordination of all CO2-related issues around fuel-efficient vehicles and clean engines.
The second floor of the smart Böblingen HQ exudes a relatively plain, almost functional atmosphere. The space is home to the engineers responsible for the inner values of the smart fortwo and forfour. While marketing and design might have the prettier posters or more polished prototypes, the engineers’ floor is all about the figures, values, and relationships that move the brand: power curves, emission values, weight management. Here, superficial niceties come a distant second. In state-of-the-art car development, one of the central aspects is CO2 – it’s all about lowering emissions. Laura Beilstein, with a PhD in aviation and aerospace engineering, is in charge of coordinating all carbon- and fuel efficiency-related issues.
Dr. Beilstein, thank you for your time! Among other duties, you are the brand‘s avowed “CO2 champion.“ What exactly does this mean and entail?
Laura Beilstein: It’s a Mercedes-Benz specific role and one that’s assigned for each model range. The role comprises the coordination of all CO2– and fuel efficiency-related issues – it’s a complex and multi-layered topic that requires a lot of communication. I’m responsible for ensuring that any CO2-relevant information is taken into account during the model’s development, that the entire team knows the score, and that we comply with the latest legislation. To this end, I host a so-called CO2 control committee and also keep the person in charge of the model range up-to-date. Furthermore, I liaise with all colleagues tasked with CO2 strategy, certification, calculation, and external affairs. Questions that arise might include, “how should we position ourselves to ensure that we can continue to offer customers efficient vehicles in 2025?” Then, there are also operational issues to be considered, like steering the CO2 homologation process.
What are your tasks in engine development?
Laura Beilstein: Among others, we derive target values from the competitive environment and pass these on to the developers. We strongly fight for keeping consumption as low as possible – and for the perfect balance between performance- and efficiency-optimized engines and a dynamic driving performance. After all, these are often conflicting targets, since everyone wants to enjoy their drive. That’s something we need to take into account.
Which department do you collaborate with most closely?
Laura Beilstein: There’s a lot of interaction with the CO2 strategy team. Together, we consider and examine all key CO2 aspects for individual vehicles, but also for the entire smart fleet. And I also enjoy a lively exchange with the other CO2 champions. Then, we promote many fuel efficiency improvement projects with our colleagues in aerodynamics and consumption calculation. I also closely collaborate with the engine team, as mentioned earlier. And not to forget our cooperation with Renault: There is a number of CO2 issues we will tackle together as part of the upcoming facelift of the smart fortwo and smart forfour.
Since you just mentioned aerodynamics – just how important is a flow-optimized body design?
Laura Beilstein: It’s right at the top of the list. And it will become even more important with the new Worldwide Harmonized Light Vehicles Test Procedure (WLTP) consumption cycle where longer distances and a higher average speeds come into play. As part of our close collaboration with the aerodynamics team, we pursue the consistent implementation of cost-efficient aerodynamic measures.
Just how large can conflicts grow when we’re dealing with performance values or major design changes to the car’s shape?
Laura Beilstein: Well, expect some very lively discussions, since everyone has different goals and agendas. When that happens, it’s all about finding the best possible compromise. After all, this is not about us, but about our customers. In my experience, the more frequent and intense the interdisciplinary exchange, the better the final results.
Your aerospace and aviation background should come in handy during discussions with the aerodynamics experts. Do you remember what prompted the switch to the automotive arena?
Laura Beilstein: That’s a good question. I spent quite a few years in aviation. I used to work at the Institute for Aircraft Construction and I have been to almost all of the Airbus sites. One of the reasons why I’m interested in aircraft is that the industry is often one of the first to introduce and use many new technologies. They already used fiber-reinforced composites back in the 1980s. Then again, the industry can also be very sluggish and conservative; a lot of it hasn’t really changed over the past 50 years. In this respect, smart is very different …
For Laura Beilstein, almost no working day is like the other. Whether in meetings with research and development departments in Sindelfingen, on the phone with her French colleagues at Renault, on site at one of the brand’s production facilities, or attending Conformity-of-Production tests to check whether a smart production model complies with the previously determined consumption values. Right now, her department focuses most of its attention on the new WLTP testing cycle, which will be introduced throughout the EU for new vehicles next year. It gives car manufacturers an improved process for emissions and fuel consumption testing.
Car manufacturers and authorities developed the new WLTP together. What do you expect from the new testing cycle?
Laura Beilstein: That’s right, the WLTP is the result of joint development by the authorities, the manufacturers, and NGOs – Daimler has actively supported it from the beginning. The WLTP promises to produce far more realistic consumption values, giving customers more transparency. It also assigns a specific CO2 value to each individual vehicle. In the future, selecting an aerodynamically optimized wheel rim in the smart.com configurator will also result in a lower CO2 value visible on the site.
Will this also have repercussions for the development of new smart drive trains?
Laura Beilstein: Absolutely. We’re working on optimizing the CO2 performance of the entire smart fleet.
October will see the introduction of the smart electric drive, available from 2017. Is a zero-carbon car a “CO2 champion’s” ultimate dream?
Laura Beilstein: There’s a huge difference between an electric drive and a combustion engine. As an engineer, I am fascinated by the technology. And it feels pretty special to drive an electric vehicle, to experience its acceleration, and to know that there are zero emissions when you drive locally. As the original concept introduced by smart was an electric vehicle, the new electric drive is a perfect brand fit. I also think that the current incentives for buying electric vehicles will add to the momentum. Naturally, we still require investments into the charging infrastructure. But for the smart electric drive, which is mostly intended for urban environments, reach is not that much of an issue.
Are there any other trends worth mentioning that you, as an expert, have noticed?
Laura Beilstein: There’s a growing shift towards fully autonomous driving. That’s definitely on the horizon. Personally, I’m all for it since I’m used to doing other stuff during my public transport commute. Generally speaking, I think it’s important to embrace all modes of transport and encourage a wide-ranging mix. It’s simply clever to use just the right transport option for any particular situation or time. And a concept like moovel promotes this idea perfectly.