DaimlerChrysler and motoring enthusiasts are today (12/12/00) celebrating the 100th birthday of the Mercedes brand which now claims 6.4 million customers, who own 9.5 million vehicles.

Although the famous German marque this year turned in a record profit for DaimlerChrysler, it' likely the mounting losses at Chrysler in the US and Canada will cast a shadow over the celebrations.

Mercedes claims a long list of automotive innovations, including diesel engines for automotive applications, the safety body, the anti-lock braking system (ABS), airbag, the Electronic Stability Program (ESP), active suspension (ABC), Brake Assist (BAS), ceramic brakes (C-BRAKE) and Sensotronic Brake Control (SBC).

The very first Mercedes was bought by a Leipzig-born businessman, living at the time in Nice, Emil Jellinek. This keen automobile enthusiast bought his first Daimler car in 1897. He drove it in motor races and soon became a wholesaler for Daimler.

On April 2, 1900 he requested the Daimler management and chief engineer Wilhelm Maybach -- whose name will soon be used on a new luxury DaimlerChrysler model -- to build a car incorporating a new fast, lightweight and safe construction. The same day, Jellinek made a second proposal to DMG: the new car should bear the name of his 10-year-old daughter, Mercédès.

All told, the company has built 19 million Mercedes-Benz passenger cars since that first order 100 years ago.

By 1902, the Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft had doubled its production. And in September of the same year, the company took out a trademark on the name "Mercedes". 24 years later, Daimler merged with Benz & Cie. This union between the companies founded by the two inventors of the car, Gottlieb Daimler and Karl Benz, resulted in the formation of Daimler-Benz AG, while the Mercedes trademark now became Mercedes-Benz.

Daimler-Benz and Chrysler merged in 1998 to create the much-vaunted 'merger of equals and a new company called DaimlerChrysler.

But events of the past few weeks have clouded this recent aspect of the company' otherwise proud history.