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Three-pointed design star

Estate of the art: Two-door Concept Fascination could mark the return of an E-class-based coupe for the first time in three generations.

New styling chief set to make his mark on Mercedes-Benz

8 Oct 2008

By DAVID HASSALL in PARIS

THE young man who is responsible for the future direction of Mercedes-Benz styling stepped into the limelight at the Paris motor show last week, introduced by company chairman Dieter Zetsche alongside his latest creation – the eye-catching Concept Fascination coupe/wagon.

Gorden Wagener is a calm and extremely confident German who has ridden through the ranks in spectacular style and is looking to apply his influence on the world's oldest and arguably most influential car-maker, where he was appointed just a few months ago as a 39 year-old 'wunderkind' of the industry.

Mr Wagener, who turned 40 just a few weeks ago, has had a significant hand in most of the current Mercedes line-up – from the A-class through to the highly acclaimed C-class, the mould-breaking CLS and even the SUVs – and has now provoked further considerable attention with the unusual three-door pillarless wagon concept car.

But Mr Wagener told a small group of Australian journalists in Paris, including GoAuto, that he likes the discipline of producing production-viable designs and said that the E-class-based Concept Fascination could create “a potential niche in our portfolio ... a very emotional station wagon like this”.

While a production version would take at least three years to realise if it gets the green light, the concept car contains some design elements that will certainly feature in future Mercedes models.

 center imageLeft: Mercedes-Benz head of design Gorden Wagener with the Concept Fascination showcar.

This may include the finned air intakes at the front of the car, but perhaps more significant are the heavily shaped rear fenders that are inspired by the Mercedes-Benz Ponton (pontoon) models from the 1950s – a feature that Mr Wagener said we will see in future models.

He said that the rear fenders are a good example of how he would use the great heritage of the brand to be inspired for the future without going retro.

“This is a new interpretation of that (Ponton) fender theme ... and it is very significant,” he told us.

“This is a very good feature because it makes a sexy shoulder and really pushes the car forward. Together with that particular shoulder line, it creates a very unique signature and you will see that on future Mercedes-Benz.” With regard to the horizontal fins that distinguish the front intakes, Mr Wagener regards this as a stylish alternative to the usual mesh covers that adorn the increasingly large openings demanded by the engineers to feed ever more powerful and sophisticated engines.

“That's a little more spectacular with the show car,” he said of the fins. “It wouldn't necessarilly be a production solution (as is), but I think it's an interesting structure.

“We have a lot of these intake areas in the front of the vehicle and you just have that mesh ... that doesn't look good any more.

“The Concept Fascination is very espressive because it's a show car for the production car, we would probably tone it down a little bit, but that is a solution. Why not? I think the idea is principally good.” Mr Wagener replaced the retiring 40-year Mercedes veteran Peter Pfeiffer as head of design this year after a meteoric career in design since joining the company in 1997, just two years after graduating from the London College of Art (having previously studied in his home town of Essen in Germany).

By 1999 he was head of exterior and interior design, creating GL-, M- and R-class models with his team, and from 2002 he was responsible for the design of the models making up the A-, B-, C-, E-, CLK- and CLS-class. In 2006 he became head of Advanced Design and ran the California and Japan design studios.

He believes the industry faces a number of environmental challenges for the future and that designers must embrace those challenges to create solutions while maintaining the strength and integrity of the Mercedes brand.

“We are fighting every day with these guys in the wind tunnel, but it's always the same things – the rear spoiler, the height of the rear deck – but these are technical, aerodynamic issues,” he said.

“For me, the interesting part is how fuel efficient should the design look in the future? That's, of course, a mega-trend.

“If you look back in history, social trends always had an impact on design and it will in the future. I think that's a big challenge for us and of course we are investigating that to see how we can combine asthetics together with form. This is a fundamental challenge for us how to incorporate that into our design language, to still express the values of Mercedes-Benz (with) environmental friendliness.

“Alternative engines, fuel cells, electric cars and all that are challenges for design and I think that's a major challenge for the entire industry for the next ten years. That is a new impact we're facing and the key will be how to translate that in the best way.

“I think we have seen a lot of diversity in the last ten years where everybody, including us, went into new segments – some made sense, some made not so much sense. I think a lot of niches have been found already and now for me the next challenge is really to not differentiate the car by a certain architecture.

“There will always be different types of vehicles, but the key is in the future to give the car a strong character, a car which represents a brand as well as the vehicle. People will buy cars in the future in order to express themselves and have an original piece of design. I want cars that are really the true role model of European luxury. This is why you buy a Mercedes.” Mr Wagener said that being head of design for “the most traditonal and, for me, the most amazing car company of the world” is the greatest job in design, but he is under no pressure to be conservative and is determined to remain hands-on, despite now being responsible for 500 people around the globe.

“I've been designing Mercedes-Benz for 11 years now very successfully. I'm very skilled with what I'm doing and I'm very good, otherwise I wouldn't have been picked for this position.

“I have a very strong opinion about things. I am somebody who is hands-on, somebody from a new generation, somebody who has been very successful as a designer, who climbed that ladder in a very short time – I made it from a designer to head of design in 10 years – so it's a great chance to shape the brand and I'm very confident I can do that.”

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