Mercedes-Benz S-Class: The shaping force of modern safety engineering: Professor Guntram Huber


The shaping force of modern safety engineering: Professor Guntram Huber – Born in Landshut on 20 March 1935

Prof. Guntram Huber

In his work as a design engineer, Guntram Huber devoted his entire professional life to Mercedes-Benz brand vehicles, influencing and fashioning countless safety features up to production launch. Alongside bodies developed according to the latest findings in crash safety, the important milestones of his career include various safety systems, all of which celebrated their world premiere in the Mercedes-Benz S-Class.

Amongst these are the anti-lock braking system (ABS, presented in 1978, model series W 116), the driver air bag (1981, model series W/V 126), the front-passenger air bag (1988, also model series W/V 126) and the ESP® Electronic Stability Program (1995, model series 140).

After completing his education at a secondary school specialising in classical studies, the native of Landshut completed his mechanical engineering studies at the Technical University in Munich to become a graduate engineer. In 1959, he began working for the then Daimler-Benz AG as a test engineer in the Engineering Department for Passenger Car Bodies. At that time, the Mercedes-Benz “tailfin” (W 111), the world’s first passenger car featuring a safety body, was just about to be launched into series production, but crash tests to verify the basic idea with a shape-stable occupant cell and crumple zones at the front and rear were as yet only in the preparation stages. The young engineer was involved in these tests from the outset. The crash tests first took place outdoors, initially with a hoisting winch and then with a steam rocket as the auxiliary propulsion, and finally in a dedicated crash hall with custom-designed facilities. In March 1977, Huber succeeded Werner Breitschwerdt as Head of Engineering for Passenger Car Bodies and became a constant proponent and promoter of advances in active and passive safety measures.

Numerous safety innovations from Mercedes-Benz have made their debut in S-Class vehicles. A major milestone was ABS, which Mercedes-Benz presented as a world first in the W 116 model series in August 1978. Even at its market launch in 1972, the W 116 attracted much attention with its integral safety concept. In 1979, the S-Class W/V 126, featuring safety aspects developed under the direction of Guntram Huber, had its world premiere – the first passenger car in the world systematically developed to meet the safety requirements for an offset crash. And on the subject of air bags: in 1981, after 15 years of basic and detailed development, Mercedes-Benz were the first car brand in the world to offer their customers a driver’s air bag in the steering wheel, also in the W/V 126 model series – Huber became known as the “father of the air bag”. The front-passenger air bag followed in 1988, also in the S-Class.

From 1994, in addition to heading up body engineering, Guntram Huber also assumed responsibility for the development of axles, brakes and steering wheels for Mercedes-Benz passenger cars.

That same year, he was awarded a Safety Trophy by the United States Department of Transportation, in recognition of Huber’s service in introducing and implementing the first vehicle safety laws in the U.S. – he had been involved in this enormous undertaking since 1967.

ESP®, first introduced in the S-Class Coupé in 1995 and today an indispensable feature of all vehicle classes, also fell under his area of responsibility and development, as did DISTRONIC adaptive cruise control, a system designed to avoid rear-end collisions with the vehicle in front and minimise the consequences of an accident, also introduced in the S-Class in 1998. Of equal importance for minimising the consequences of an accident were the air bag advances achieved under Huber, up to and including the sidebag (first introduced in 1995 in the E-Class model series W/S 210) and the window bag (also first introduced in the W/S 210 in July 1998). But the electronic drive authorisation system KEYLESS-GO and Active Body Control (ABC), aimed at avoiding lateral inclination when cornering, were also developed during Huber’s tenure as director.

In 1981, in addition to his work for Mercedes-Benz, he also accepted a teaching contract on the topic of body engineering as Chair of the Motor-Vehicle Engineering department at Darmstadt Technical University. In 1987, he was awarded the title of Honorary Professor by the Minister of Science and Art of the State of Hesse. He remained Chair of the department until July 1998 – at that time, he was already retired from his position as a design engineer, a transition he made on 31 December 1997.

Still today, he considers the Mercedes-Benz brand’s greatest service to be that it raised public awareness of the issue of vehicle safety through countless innovations and made it the norm. Indeed, many Mercedes-Benz inventions are now standard equipment in production vehicles across the globe.