2014 AUTOMOTIVE NEWS EUROPE CONGRESS

Wagener says simplicity is key part of his Mercedes design philosophy

Wagener is giving the Mercedes lineup more design uniformity while keeping diversity with different executions.
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BRUSSELS -- Mercedes-Benz has transitioned from traditional to modern luxury by adopting styling themes such as simplicity, authenticity and craftsmanship, said Gorden Wagener, the brand's design chief.

Mercedes' fresh design philosophy has succeeded in attracting new and younger customers to the brand, he told the Automotive News Europe Congress in Brussels on Wednesday.

Wagener, 45, was the youngest design chief to head Mercedes styling when he was appointed to the post in 2008. "My task was to take forward the brand's design from traditional luxury to modern luxury," he said.

Design, not reliability, is now a key factor in winning new buyers, Wagener said. "There are no bad cars on the road any more. It's not about getting from A to B but about how you get from A to B."

Wagener said simplicity was part of his new design approach, which he calls Sensual Purity, because it is considered modern and high tech. Luxury car buyers also seek authenticity so brand pedigree is also crucial but luxury brands must always reinvent themselves, he said. And despite the Internet and the digital world, customers demand something real so craftsmanship is an important quality in a premium car.

Wagener said the clean, simple design of products from the German electronics manufacturer Braun in the 1960s was among his inspiration, along with the Bauhaus style from the 1930s.

Wagener has won praise for the design of Mercedes' new compact car range. The latest A-class compact has a sleek, sporty look compared with the boxy shape of the previous generation. The range also includes the B-class minivan, CLA coupe-styled, four-door sedan and GLA crossover. In Europe, 60 percent of CLA sales have been conquests. In the United States, 80 percent of CLA customers are new to the brand, he said.

Wagener is seeking to give the whole Mercedes lineup more uniformity in design while keeping diversity with different executions. The new S-class coupe -- with its low-slung greenhouse and clean shape -- epitomizes his design philosophy, he said.

Wagener worked as an exterior designer for Volkswagen, Mazda and General Motors before joining Mercedes in 1997. 

You can reach Paul McVeigh at pmcveigh@crain.com.

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