by Adrian-Liviu Dorofte

ANALYSIS: A comprehensive look at Mercedes-Benz’s new design philosophy

Mercedes-Benz is currently passing through a period of fundamental changes regarding the right path to follow in terms of design language. To many, the latest models released by the Stuttgart-based automotive brand might look a bit confusing and rather busy in terms of body detailing. This can hardly be called nonsense – it is mostly a radical manouevre to give the models a more appealing, up-to-date look as it is also an experimental way to define company’s future aesthetics direction.

To most of the traditional clients, the latest designs could be very hard to digest. But Mercedes-Benz is in need to attract younger masses of customers, who need more than just a plain, solid and simple look to the Star vehicles they buy. That is quite a visible departure from the needs and desires of the current target group, which is by far the oldest among the premium constructors: between 45 and 50 years old. To rejuvenate it, drastic action is required sometimes.

The failed merger with Chrysler put a setback on the German company for around 5-10 years behind its competition. A lot of wreckless decisions were made in the Jürgen Schrempp era, which eventually cost Mercedes-Benz the number one spot in the premium automotive rankings. The past is long gone away, so now the management must concentrate on its present and future term plans.

The ultimate challenge today is to focus on new, unexplored territories and do some competent market research to find out what clients exactly need. While the technical side of things is hardly a problem for Mercedes-Benz (which are among the best constructors when it comes to innovation), the younger customers they are wanting their products to appeal to are highly sensitive to design and custom personalization.

The job the executives have outlined is to further strengthen their solid luxury lineup which groupes the C-, E-, S-Class, SL and the 4x4 vehicles (apart from the R-Class, which is likely to be phased out next year) and concentrate specifically on developing new niche models to cover any marget segment that can ensure a constant and sustainable growth when it comes to sales volumes and revenue. Some have also suggested bringing back famous former chief designers that might deliver some crucial advice in the artistic process, such as Bruno Sacco who successfully mastered the R 129 generation of the SL-Class roadster.

Going traditional with the classic range, while also refreshing the philosophy according to current times, and exploring new possibilities in the ever-expanding compact class, as well as in the medium, SUV and high-luxury areas are the areas where Mercedes-Benz needs to focus. Retouching the current models penned by former design chief Peter Pfeiffer seems to be the daring project of new chief designer of the group, Prof. Gorden Wagener, who brought a load of fresh air into the rather aging Mercedes-Benz brand lately.

You can clearly see that, approaching the finish line of his career, the partially unmotivated Peter Pfeiffer who lost any idea of coherence has come up with some bland stylings, lacking personality, for the last cars he designed before his retirement in 2008. Now, Wagener is trying to catch up the lost time and revive the great spirit locked inside the cars his predecessor somehow neglected. The first model to have been fully drawn under the watchful coordination of Prof. Gorden Wagener is the new A-Class, which has caused a stir in the industry, great public simpathy and thus is now selling like hot cakes across Europe. The new CLA-Class 4-door coupe and the future GLA-Class crossover are also securing the way to an important growth for Mercedes-Benz in the premium compact sector. Applying the successful CLS idea in a lower segment proved to be an intelligent move, as the Concept Style Coupe was highly appreciated and commented. The GLA-Class will also be a strong, decisive attribute in the battle with the main opponents such as BMW and Audi, that will also bring new customers to the brand. The “G” letter in the official title of the X 156 project creates a high dose of expectation – some rugged, old-school style applied to a fashionable, city-oriented crossover with progressive design could turn out be quite a remarkable mix.

The Mercedes-Benz officials have faith in the power and experience of Gorden Wagener and his team of young, talented designers whom he leads, so they have clearly requested some major modifications of current models. The new GLK Facelift, which debuted in 2012, got softened up a bit, just enough to convert into a glamorous, lifestyle SUV. The new E-Class 2013 range (212 and 207 series) has dropped the four-eyed fascia and also received a softer, yet more organic look. The new GL-Class was also improved in a last-minute effort before the car was revealed to the world. The SL-Class (R 231) also received some plastic surgery to somehow correct the gnarled front fascia and visually enhance the rear end – remember, the luxury roadster is a special case in the Mercedes-Benz family, which has a longer lifespan and gets several styling updates through this period.

The SLK-Class (R 172) will be subject to an early facelift coming most certainly in 2014. The M-Class will also be quite radically updated towards 2015 to obey the objective of becoming more dynamic and powerful when looked at. The new C-Class will be the very first model to feature a completely new design philosophy, which will be partially previewed by the new S-Class coming spring this year. Last, but not least, two new additions in the SUV portfolio will cause sensation when unveiled – the MLC and the GLC, company’s first Sports Utility Coupe vehicles. The future MLC, codenamed C 292, will be released in around two years and feature a modified M-Class platform – other than that, it will be completely different from its brother, sporting a mindblowing coupe design à la Merc. The GLC will follow the same recipe when unveiled in the course of 2016. Derived from the future 2015 generation GLK (X 205), it will be underpinned by the new MRA rear-driven traction system modified to accomodate the 4MATIC all-wheel-drive solution and will basically sport a soft, yet organic, fresh and highly appealing attitude.

The new S-Class Limousine will stay committed to the basic styling principles of traditional Mercedes-Benz luxury saloons. Some inspiration for its cues has been taken from the latest concept cars showcased in the last five years – the F 700, the F 800 and the F 125! research vehicles. Apart from the LWB and XL versions (which mimic the standard SWB model), the future, enlarged S-Class portfolio will further comprise a Coupe, a soft-top Cabriolet and a high-end Pullman variant, all of them displaying their own identity and powerful character completely in line with the new design language of the Stuttgart-based constructor.

The SLS AMG is catalogued as a retro-styled, quite visually silent hypercar and should stay like so for the rest of its lifecycle, with some minor visual updates expected towards the end of next year – more inspiration is needed next time, however, as requested by the executive board. If ever greenlighted for production, the still unapproved SLC AMG mid-sized supercar could end up boasting a sweet, aerodynamic silhouette, with dramatic details and an overall impressive design to fight with presumed opponents such as Porsche 911 or Lamborghini Gallardo.

As a conclusion, what Mercedes-Benz is engaged to these days in terms of design philosophy might look strange, desperate and totally unprofessional. But it is a more likely a targeted strategy looking to make up for the lost time, restore the premium aura of the otherwise powerful and heritage-rich German brand and create confidence, attraction, balance and a unique, remarkable and instantly recognizable style, in addition to winning new customers that will forever stay loyal to the Three-Pointed Star.

Adrian Liviu Dorofte
Editor in Chief,

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