Mercedes-Benz is attracting a huge number of new customers from other brands with cars such as the coupe-styled CLA compact. More than half of the CLA's European sales have been conquests. In the United States, 80 percent of CLA customers are from rival automakers. Not only are the customers new to the brand, but the average age of a CLA buyer is 43, compared with 50 or older for the rest of the automaker's lineup.
Mercedes design boss Gorden Wagener deserves a lot of the credit for this change. Since succeeding Peter Pfeiffer in 2008, the 45-year-old German has redefined Mercedes' design language with products such as the CLA, GLA, C class, S class and S-class coupe. He spoke about the transformation with Automotive News Europe Correspondent Eric Gallina.
Where does the Mercedes' Sensual Purity design ethos come from and where is it going?
For every new car, you see another piece of the puzzle coming together. These are the fruits from what we established after I took over. I created a whole new design philosophy, which affects the entire brand. It’s not only about design; it also defines what the brand should stand for in the future. We set some guidelines that define our philosophy, Sensual Purity, which is equivalent to modern luxury.
Which car best showcases the company’s new design language?
The new C class really embodies that at its best. There’s only a single line on that car. Other than that it’s pure, clean, sheer surfacing. We have our signature line, the dropping line in the side, which comes out of the headlight, over the fender and goes toward the rear wheel. We’re not doing wedge-shaped cars anymore. Wedge-shape for me is kind of late ’90s, a bit dated. We’ve actually been inspired more by 1930s-era streamline design.
Do cars such as the CLA also reflect this design ethos?
This philosophy of Sensual Purity has different executions. You see a wilder execution on smaller cars such as the CLA. We want it to be a really progressive, radical young car. We’re seeing new customers in dealerships. We really accomplished our mission to redefine the brand, especially in that segment. When you look at the C class, you see a more calm and pure approach – a bit more on the pure side of Sensual Purity. It’s just a slightly different execution. We tried to vary our approach but we don’t change the language.