What do you think people in the early 1980s imagined when they pictured the Car of the Future? Did they fly, making highways obsolete? Did they look like spaceships? Maybe to some, but the government of Germany had their eyes on a far more realistic and ultimately correct goal: fuel economy.
As the world still reeled from the energy crises of the 1970s, and as automakers began to adopt computer technology in their vehicles for the first time ever, the German invested a ton of money into developing super-efficient, super-safe prototype cars for display at the 1981 Frankfurt Auto Show.
This is what Mercedes came up with: the Mercedes-Benz Auto 2000.
(Welcome to Long Lost Concept Cars, a new semi-regular series on Fridays where we highlight amazing concepts from years past that never made it to production — but maybe should have.)
As the website CarStyling tells it, in 1980, Germany's Federal Ministry for Research and Technology funded the German auto industry to the tune of 110 million Deutschmarks to get them to come up with prototype cars that could achieve fuel economy of about 25 miles per gallon for vehicles weighing 1,250 to 1,700 kilograms and 21.3 mpg for cars with a weight of up to 2,150 kilograms.
At the time, those were extremely ambitious fuel economy targets, and the government specified the prototypes had to be real, comfortable, working cars that could seat four people, haul stuff and meet emissions standards.
Say what you want about Mercedes-Benz, but they generally don't half-ass things, unless those things are the long-term reliability of their cars in the 1990s or so or the interior quality of the CLA45 AMG. So at the behest of the government, they produced not one but three Auto 2000s (Autos 2000?) with the same bodies but different powertrains.