Interview with Mercedes-Benz Head of Design Gorden Wagener on the new E-Class Coupé and Mercedes design
Stuttgart, Apr 24, 2009
What's special about a coupé?
Coupés have a long tradition at Mercedes-Benz. A coupé must have emotive appeal, it must address all the senses.
What are the particular challenges that a coupé poses for the designers at Mercedes-Benz? To what extent is a different approach required?
Every Mercedes-Benz coupé is an elegant automobile, yet at the same time an automobile with a highly emotive appeal. It must, therefore, address all the senses and additionally offer something of the unexpected, a dash of audacity. In short, a Mercedes coupé makes the pulse race - but the observer is never exactly sure whether this is because of the vehicle's elegance or its dynamism.
How close is the relationship between the E-Class saloon and the coupé?
The coupé deliberately makes no attempt to hide the fact that it is a close relative of the new E-Class saloon. This can clearly be seen from the vehicle's twin headlamps, which are likewise in the shape of rhomboids. However, their styling is sportier and sharper, and they have a more dynamic and aggressive look. In common with the new E-Class, the rear wing of the coupé boasts the same forceful curves. Yet, despite its family resemblance to the E-Class, the new coupé has an independent, passionate and sporty character.
Mercedes-Benz has stayed with the twin headlamps for the new E-Class. Why?
The twin headlamps have been a key element in the visual appearance of the
E-Class since 1995 and are therefore one of our traditional recognition symbols. We didn't want to do without them. However, the headlamps are now no longer oval in shape, but more progressive and based on the geometrical forms of cubism. This makes them look like polished jewels, and they present a completely new image -- surprising, yet nonetheless unmistakable. The E-Class is seen once again with "New Eyes".
How did the new design idiom come into being?
It was developed and coordinated with great effort in the course of a long process, the principal objective being to ensure the outward reflection of inner values - character and premium quality.
How do you design a coupé without making the saloon look bad?
You first have to design a great saloon - that's the starting point for making other "family members" look good.
Mercedes-Benz has created numerous legendary coupés - doesn't such a "heritage" make the designer nervous?
If anything, it's a great challenge. After all, every Mercedes-Benz coupé should be something absolutely special - as regards its engineering and, above all, as regards its styling. My team and I approach this task with great enthusiasm.
When were you first bitten by the Mercedes bug?
My first encounter with a Mercedes was around 30 years ago. As a small boy, I was standing in front of a 123 series model, a dark blue 230 CE, and was fascinated by its form and presence. My father was also a Mercedes fan.
Where do your best ideas come from?
Often, it's something spontaneous: a single glance at a street scene, during a walk in the countryside or on a visit to a museum - a designer is open to his surroundings and lets himself be inspired - 24 hours a day.
Do you still design?
Yes, I've been known to sketch the odd car or detail at a meeting because an idea came to me and the meeting just happened at that moment not to be quite so interesting. Three lines are sometimes all it takes to show where things might lead. It used to be my ambition as head of design to be the best at designing, but that definitely isn't the case any more. Yet I must still remain capable of presenting a good design. That's a personal ambition of mine.
What do/did you find fascinating about designing automobiles, then as a young designer and today all those years later?
Design always continues to evolve - just like society. I find this fascinating, because we designers help to shape the future. For my team and me, each new day begins with a journey into the future and with the ideas we are planning for the years to come. This is what drives me every day.
What does Mercedes design mean to you?
Designing a Mercedes is always something very special. For me, Mercedes design is a story of pure excitement - past, present and future.
Does every Mercedes model have its own unique personality?
Each Mercedes model has its own personality, both those of the past and also those of the present. Although there is a distinct family relationship, each member of the family is unique and unmistakable. Every Mercedes reflects the basic values of the brand while still having its own unique character. The E-Class Coupé represents emotive appeal combined with efficiency.
How important for you is the design of the interior?
It's quite simply the case that people spend more time inside their vehicles than in front of them. This means that the design of the interior is just as important as that of the exterior . Quality and attention to detail are things that are directly felt and experienced every time you get into an automobile. The goal, therefore, is for the design of the exterior to be carried through into the interior, reflecting the character of the vehicle in high-quality, authentic materials. You need to feel a Mercedes, you need to get in and drive it in order to experience the passion with which we have worked on it over a period of many years. The importance of the interior is also demonstrated by the fact that we have set up our own competence centre for interior design.
What's your opinion of green design?
Green design is a mega trend, and one that will occupy us over the coming years. For we already today face the following questions: What can we learn from nature? What new forms will our customers accept? And can you tell how eco-friendly a car is simply by looking at it?
Is there a Mercedes-Benz design philosophy?
Yes, of course. Put simply, a Mercedes is always recognisable as a Mercedes. Its design reflects the brand values - quality, performance, innovation, safety, comfort and excitement, to name but a few. And a Mercedes never looks old, even after 30 years on the road. That's what we call long-life design.
"Form follows function" or "function follows form" - how close, and how early, does the interaction between car design and engineering development need to be?
From the initial idea through to the finished automobile, we are in intensive contact with one another, because our goal is the optimum result in every respect.
Is it important that design should arouse passion in the observer?
For us, it means that we appeal to people directly through the senses and not just through rationality. We therefore make automobiles that exhibit all the highly prized attributes that are typical of Mercedes while, at the same time, displaying a dash of audacity, a breath of irrationality. Nevertheless, a Mercedes never denies that it is a Mercedes. Our intention is to generate enthusiasm - and pride of ownership.
How can you tell whether a design is successful?
What is decisive is the success of an automobile - when many customers decide themselves for the car.
Does the same apply also to future automobiles, which will be subject to new environmental constraints?
Most definitely. Emotive appeal, pride of ownership and driving pleasure will continue in future to belong to the core values of the Mercedes-Benz brand. I promise that it will always be fun to drive a Mercedes, and a Mercedes will always be exciting in appearance, set technological and visual trends and be in demand.
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