Mercedes-Benz on Monday announced the ambitious target of becoming carbon neutral by 2039. That's 20 years away or less than three product cycles, which for an automaker the size of Mercedes is a short time to transform its entire operations.

Key to reaching the goal will be expanding the number of plug-in hybrid and electric models, including both battery- and hydrogen fuel cell-electric models. Mercedes estimates that even by 2030, half the vehicles it sells will either be a plug-in hybrid or an EV of some sort. And the figure is likely to be much higher by the time 2039 rolls around.

But being carbon neutral is also about the production process as much as it is about the cars. In this regard, Mercedes will look to use renewable energy for production and where emissions can't be avoided they will be offset via certified climate projects. Mercedes estimates that all of its European plants will be carbon neutral by as early as 2022.

Suppliers will also need to tow the line. After consulting with independent firms to determine the carbon output of its suppliers, Mercedes will work with its suppliers to identify possible carbon reduction measures. The automaker will also look to implement recycling of raw materials as much as possible.

Finally, there will be a focus on the customer. Mercedes is developing mobility services to help spread the use of zero-emission models, for example through car-sharing and ride-hailing services. A future app could also let customers know the location of public charging stations that rely solely on renewable energy.

Mercedes cited environmental concerns as the main reason behind the overhaul, though the automaker also sees it as a key strategy for maintaining the position of being a leader in the auto industry.

"We have set a clear course to help prevent further acceleration of climate change," Ola Källenius, Mercedes's current R&D chief who will soon replace Dieter Zetsche as CEO, said in a speech on Monday. “This strategy will help us stay in a leading position in the auto industry.”