Gorden Wagener has been transforming Mercedes-Benz design since he became chief designer in mid-2008.
His latest creation is the S-class coupe, which embodies what Wagener calls “sensual purity” and “modern luxury.”
Wagener and his team also penned the new CLA compact sedan, the redesigned C-class sedan, the new GLA crossover and the new GT sports car.
Wagener, 46, joined Mercedes-Benz in 1997 as a transportation designer and moved up the ranks. He worked in the United States in 2006 and 2007 in various jobs that included vice president of DaimlerChrysler research, engineering and design for North America.
Before joining Mercedes-Benz, he worked at Volkswagen, Mazda and General Motors.
He was interviewed at the S-class coupe’s U.S. introduction in the U.S. state of Rhode Island by Automotive News Reporter Diana T. Kurylko.
You’ve described the S-class coupe as an evolution of the design philosophy that you brought to Mercedes-Benz. Highlight some of the new features.
The design philosophy is sensual purity which is part of modern luxury -- the design translation of modern luxury. Looking at the car, it is more of a revolution. When you see the predecessor, it was more of a two-door limousine. The S-class coupe looks like an exotic supercar. It is a big jump. It is a very timeless and beautiful car.
The only single line is the signature dropping line you see on each and every Mercedes.
You talk about a Coke-bottle element in the rear. Can you describe this detail?
To achieve this Coke bottle, you pull in the cabin and the greenhouse and bring out the shoulders. You blend the rear shoulders into the side so this Coke bottle shape has this wonderful stance from the rear that is pronounced with a horizontal graphic and horizontal lines in the rear lights. All of our sporty cars have this new horizontal graphic. On the new GT, it is even more extreme.
Does this increase luggage or passenger space in the rear? You said the S-class coupe is a little wider than the CL.
The car itself is wider, but no, it does not.
Compared to the previous car, we changed the proportions dramatically. We chopped the roof 40 mm (1.57 inches) so it is lower. The rear overhang is 80 mm (3.15 inches) shorter. The wheels are much bigger, and we pushed them into the body. This is what changes this car so dramatically. There is actually less space but more style.
It is more of a statement at the upper end than its predecessor, the CL?
It embodies this modern luxury direction at its best. It is our most expensive and luxurious car. It is a brand shaper. Its predecessors are this long line of S coupes, and it makes me proud to fill the next frame. Many people have stated that this is the best S coupe ever.
You also significantly changed and upgraded the interior?
The complete interior is all new, and other than some small components, there is nothing from the S-class sedan. It is a unique interior with a new proportion. We call it a low-mounted airbag, which allows this lower wing in the instrument panel. In the upper part, there is this nice wraparound from the instrument panel into the front door. There is a great amount of detailing in the interior.
You noted there is a mix of digital and analog features in the interior. Why is this important?
There is a demand for mechanical analog-like solutions like vinyl records, chronograph watches or a Leica camera. The digital stuff is important, and what we created there with this huge 12-inch widescreen like an iPad is a new interior design icon for Mercedes. This is something we will bring down the line. The amount of multimedia and multidigital will increase, and it opens up possibilities for more displays and more information.
Of course, the more digital it gets, the more you need these analog features. We have that in the air vents -- this little aluminum part that you can turn, and it will click. This is eye candy.
But you also put 47 Swarovski crystals in each headlight as an option. Why?
Because it is the ultimate in luxury, having jewels in the headlights. It’s cool. If you look at the amount of detail this headlamp has, it’s amazing. They are staged like high technology.
The first real changes we saw in Mercedes-Benz design were the entry-level CLA and range-topping S-class sedans that came out a year ago, and then the redesigned C-class sedan and the GLA crossover this year. What do these vehicles say about the future direction of Mercedes style?
The CLA, S, C and GLA are the new-generation cars designed under me. We have fairly long development cycles, so it took a while to develop this philosophy we founded in 2009. You are now seeing the fruits of that -- bringing this brand into the future and attracting new customers. We have a 75 percent conquest rate for the CLA, and that went beyond all expectations.
Will we see a lot of what you did with the S-class sedan and coupe in the new-generation Maybach ultraluxury sedan that’s coming soon? The S-class sedan was a radical redesign.
Yes, it will follow the same philosophy but with a certain specialty. For me, Maybach is the haute couture of luxury, and soon you will see what that means.
Can you really bring more style to SUVs and crossovers?
Eventually, yes. The GLA is the first of a new generation of SUVs, and we will continue down the road. We showed a concept M-class coupe. There you already see a lot of where we are going. Our vision cars are 95 percent production, and you will see that with the M coupe, too. It will reinvent our SUVs; they will be more sporty and sleek and not so boxy -- and that will apply to the new GLK, which you will also see next year.
We will renew our entire SUV lineup in the next 12 months or so. These cars will eventually carry my handwriting.