Tobias Moers Is the Brains Behind Mercedes Benz’s Project ONE Hypercar
The gruff Mercedes AMG boss insists the customers made him do it.
Tobias Moers, the head of Mercedes AMG and the taciturn brainchild of the stunning Mercedes F1-applied hybrid supercar Project ONE, is exhausted. Sitting in a brightly lit cubbyhole in the massive Mercedes Benz stand at the Los Angeles Auto Show, Moers’s face is set in his notorious scowl. He looks a little bored, by turns preoccupied by something on his phone, or underwhelmed, or even dyspeptic.
On one hand, the scowl is understandable. This is a media day, and I’m just one schlub in a line of media schlubs forcing my way into his schedule for a few minutes of awkward, anodyne chatter about the product over which he and his team in Affalterbach, Germany, presides. Sitting with me are two communications liaisons, including one from the Mercedes-Benz USA, who flew me to Los Angeles, put me up at the Waldorf Astoria in Beverly Hills, let me spend a couple days testing a refresh of the S-Class lineup in the hills north of LA.
On the other hand, Herr Moers, why the long face? He's here in part to promote the fascinating Project ONE, a dream project for anyone in the industry. With a (sold out) sales volume of just 275 units, the Project ONE is an undeniably sexy testing ground for some crucial sports car technology that Mercedes AMG's championship-winning Formula 1 program spent billions of dollars developing on track. The Project ONE uses the very same 1.6-liter V6 engine and electric motor that Lewis Hamilton races—the most efficient racing engine ever made, Moers says.
Inside the engine, which revs at 16,000 RPMs on track and a projected 10,000 or so on the road, the Project One will deploy a series of very clever innovations for the first time in production a car. There is, for instance, the turbulent jet ignition, a super-efficient way to burn fuel that involves pre-firing in a pod and then injecting the mix into the cylinder.
Moers came to AMG 25 years ago, when the fledgling company had around 100 employees. Today, there are nearly 2,000. In the past few years, he has overseen an unprecedented development and growth of the sporty Affalterbach sub-brand. In the United States alone, AMG sells 40 different models, from the AMG 43s to the CLA/GLA 45s to the 6-Liter V12 G65s and SL65s and the stunning S65 sedan/coupe/cabriolet power trio.
Rounding that out are the rest of the AMG 63 models that offer a mix of the older 5.5-L V8 and the peerless new 4.0-Liter V8, which is inarguably one of the finest 8-cylinder engines ever made. Among these 40 models, you will find some of the finest Mercedes ever built (I’m looking at you, S-Class, and at you, C63S, and at you, E63S Wagon). Mercedes seems to be crushing its limping rival BMW and has lost Audi in its rearview mirror.
By all measurements, AMG is killing it. So why is Moers is so cranky? Maybe he misses the verdant fields of Affalterbach, the air redolent with agriculture and the fields crowded with livestock. Or maybe it’s just me.
The Drive: So do you guys have a plan to bring all the radically cool technology in the Project ONE to the AMG fleet?
Well, there is always a plan. But I have to think about the most efficient way to get to the point to do that. When I started as CEO of AMG, it was my understanding we are not even considering having a hybrid. But then I was approached by customers asking me, When are you going to do something like a hypercar? But then I was thinking, well you know the 50th anniversary of AMG is coming up, and there is a major transition in powertrain technology to electrification. We put all the pieces together, and I though: OK, we're doing a hypercar. But doing it in a V8 or V12 or V-10, or whatever. I thought, No, that would be silly. In my opinion, that would be old school.
Some people think of AMG as sort of an old school organization. It is, after all, the Home of the Hammer.
But the Hammer was progressive in its time. Is AMG all about the V8 right now? Well, yeah, but the V8 is a very sophisticated engine, with the hot vee and things like that. The more I thought about making a hypercar, the more I wanted to do something with Formula 1. I know full well that the F1 engine is the most efficient engine that you can get. I started to discuss with Andy Cowell, the Managing Director of Mercedes AMG High Performance powertrains. I asked him if there’s any chance to make that engine street legal. He said, Maybe.
Sometimes a 'Maybe' is as good as a yes.
Exactly. I can push that, you know what I mean? Then I needed to make the case that an electrified powertrain is the future. This is at the true peak of technology. It wasn't a difficult argument. There’s nothing else we could do today.
Was there anything on the F1 car that you absolutely couldn't bring to the road?
Actually, we had to add technology that F1 didn't have. Andy was not convinced this could work in a four wheel drive, and we had to add that. We had to achieve a certain range of electric drive, so we added capacity to the battery. In fact, the whole battery concept, even the cells, come directly from Formula 1—they are the exact same cells they are using in the F1 cars. It’s the most expensive cell you can get.
So the crucial component that'll make it to the street from Project ONE is electrication.
Electrified powertrains are the key success factor to the future of performance cars. You can count on that: Electrification of powertrain is going to be the key. We have a lot of components in this car that I see coming to the AMG street cars. We're going to bring bits and pieces out of that car to life. For example, the electrified turbo. Of course, F1 components are so expensive that they'll mostly draw the inspirational guidelines. We look hard at the performance batteries, which are flooded. There’s no air cooling in that system, it’s a flooded battery with a dedicated fluid so you don’t have to deal with any thermal issues. That's pretty cool, right?
And you're going to build this in England, right?
Of course this will be built in England. You don’t even need to ask that. It’s built around the carbon fiber monocoque, so we're going to lean on the F1 operation for some support and advice and guidelines. When it hits the road, people will never have to ask the question of why we built the Project ONE. It will be obvious.