This article first appeared on ntv.de
In April 2019, the German-Russian world was still in order: the then Daimler boss Dieter Zetsche, Federal Minister of Economics Peter Altmaier and Russian President Vladimir Putin opened the country's first Mercedes-Benz plant in Moscow. Only four years later, the German car company draws a line under its Russian business: the Russian daily newspaper "Isvestia" reports that Mercedes-Benz has cut all software connections to its former authorized dealers and sales partners in Russia.
The group had already ceased production in Russia in February 2022, shortly after the start of the Russian attack on Ukraine. At the same time, it was decided at that time to stop exporting new cars to the country of Kremlin chief Putin. Last October, Mercedes announced the sale of its entire Russian business, which employs more than 1,000 people, to Russian investor Avtodom. Completion was reported in April. Now comes the electronic exit.
In concrete terms, this means that Avtodom and the previous authorized dealers will have to offer maintenance and repairs themselves in the future. "The transaction also included the service business," Mercedes-Benz replies when asked by ntv.de. "The obligations arising from customer warranty claims passed to the buyer with the transaction."
Without the software access from Mercedes, however, this is a complicated matter. Just like televisions, washing machines and other electronic devices, cars have long been computers on wheels. If there is damage, there is usually no need for a mechanic, it is often a system error that must be read out before it can be repaired.
But at Mercedes, electronic error detection is now history. The former sales partner MB RUS confirms in the newspaper "Isvestia" that all Russian dealers have lost their access to the system software. After Mercedes-Benz AG left the Russian market, the company explained that there were no longer any opportunities to check and carry out installed service offers. In the future, repairs and maintenance will be carried out on the basis of "accumulated experience and knowledge". In the best case, repair and maintenance times will be longer, in the worst case they are only possible to a limited extent or not at all.
Examples of other brands show what threatens Mercedes drivers, as Skoda, Kia, Nissan and Renault have already withdrawn from the Russian market. According to "Isvestia", their customers were then no longer able to open their car remotely or start it. If this worked, it was sometimes no longer displayed how much petrol was still in the tank. There have also been reports of problems with the engine control, the anti-lock braking system and also the brakes.
Because Western manufacturers not only build smartphones, cars or turbines. Apple, Google, Siemens, Microsoft, VW, Mercedes, Boeing or Airbus also control the software used to operate the device or machine. Western software is a sharp and powerful sword, as Alexander Libman from Freie Universität Berlin had already explained in the ntv.de podcast "Again what was learned" using the example of SAP.
"You can't obtain technological services and modern software, such as from SAP, from other sources if they no longer provide updates," said the political scientist. "You can't. The software is no longer on CD or DVD and can be loaded onto a computer to make it work."
Russia has only two options. The country can try to gain access to the operating software with external or third-party programs, i.e. hack into it. But even that is not without risk if important settings are accidentally changed or switched off. In the case of Mercedes, for example, deactivation could lead to problems with the alarm systems and with the coding of car keys, warns an automotive expert at "Izvestia".
Russia may also seek to replace Western technology with foreign alternatives, or even develop and produce it itself. But that will take time, if it works at all: Well-educated Russians in particular have fled in droves from the war and Russian mobilization and can no longer help. In both cases, it is more likely that Russia will have to adapt and get used to lower quality at a higher price. A creeping reverse industrialization is taking place.
This is how an industry expert sums it up in "Isvestia": Of course, the restrictions imposed by Mercedes can be circumvented. But it is simpler and more likely that the demand for older models, less "fancy" and less modern vehicles will increase.