Mercedes Lays Off Staff at Innovation Centers, Seeks Outside Partners

By Scott Kirsner |  July 28, 2020

Daimler AG, the German company that makes Mercedes-Benz vehicles and Daimler trucks, has laid off more than 100 staffers at its Lab1886 innovation centers around the world, according to former employees.

Created in 2007, Lab1886 was intended to help Daimler experiment with new technologies and business models, as well as collaborate with startups. Daimler set up five Lab1886 locations in Stuttgart, Berlin, Beijing, Silicon Valley, and Atlanta. Among its projects were the car2go car-sharing service, public transit apps, and an electric helicopter for urban transit called the Volocopter. The lab was named for the year that Carl Benz got a patent for his three-wheeled Benz Patent-Motorwagen, considered the world’s first automobile.

Susanne Hahn, Head of Lab1886 Global. © Daimler AG

Susanne Hahn, the Director of Lab1886 globally, is working to raise money from investors to spin out one project as a standalone company with a small team, according to former Lab1886 employees. Hahn did not respond to requests for comment.

Daimler spokesperson Andrea Berg says that the company is seeking ways to keep the Lab1886 entity alive. In an email, Berg wrote that “the Innovation Lab is now taking the next step and is further developing into an open innovation platform, in order to be able to develop new business models for other companies in the future. For this purpose, The Lab1886 is currently in discussions with potential external partners. We can confirm a consolidation of the Lab1886 sites in the future.”

“It’s unfortunate news, but many of us incubators are on the chopping block this year,” says a staffer at another carmaker’s innovation lab in Silicon Valley, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to talk about a competitor. He said he would normally seek to recruit some of the former Lab1886 employees, but his company has a hiring freeze until at least January. 

InnoLead interviewed Hahn in 2018 about the opening of a Lab1886 site in Atlanta. She described Lab1886 as “a highly effective innovation network. I tell the people prominently that we are pretty much open‑minded, and really strongly focused on results.”

Daimler AG executives have said this month that they are seeking to eliminate 15,000 jobs through buyouts or early retirements — otherwise more layoffs may be necessary. 

Below is a video overview of Lab1886’s collaboration with the startup Volocopter, released in 2017.