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Exclusive: The Designers Pt1 – Gorden Wagener, Mercedes-Benz

Fri, 09 May 2014 00:00:00 -0700

Car Design News launched its first ever Car Design Review yearbook at the Geneva motor show, featuring the award-winning Production Car and Concept Car Designs of 2013.

Over the next three months we'll be publishing – in their own words – world-exclusive interviews with the 12 professional design judges involved in these awards, featuring their individual votes, their views on the year just gone plus their hopes for the year ahead.

Kicking off the series is vice-president of design for Mercedes-Benz, Gorden Wagener, talking up the global recovery, exciting new Mercedes design studios and why a certain Pininfarina coupé was his favorite concept of 2013...

If you're interested in buying a copy of the 160-page yearbook this interview appears in, alongside trend reports, bespoke car design infographics and a special feature on Marcello Gandini, our inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award winner, Car Design Review can be purchased here.

Name Gorden Wagener
Role VP design, Mercedes-Benz
Age, nationality 45, German
Location Stuttgart, Germany
Education Essen University & RCA

"With every new car I believe it's becoming more clear where we are going. For us 2013 was a great year, not only sales-wise but finally we are seeing more and more cars coming onto the street designed under my guidance. I took over the job five years ago but with different product cycles of course there's a mixture of cars out there.

"We've created a very successful young car family around the A-Class and on the other hand we've showed what we can do in the upper segments, with the S- and C-Class. It was a good year for the industry overall too, with the market recovering. Everyone's doing well, the Americans are back, I think it's been pretty cool.

"Out of the concepts from last year I appreciated the Cadillac Elmiraj. I saw it first at Pebble Beach and liked the proportions and execution, it's a very new approach for the Cadillac brand, a little less stealthy and more refined. I liked the Kia Provo too. It's really a designer's car, very modern and contemporary, almost like a little TT, with interesting graphics. The interior of the Renault Initiale Paris was good as well. I like the creativity of Laurens van den Acker, he understands French opulence in a very interesting way with nice details.

"In 2014 we'll be talking a lot about technology like autonomous driving. We had the GT6 show car at the 2013 LA Auto Show in November and the opening of a new software studio in Sunnyvale, near Palo Alto. Together with the engineers there will be more than 300 people working there eventually, of which 20-30 will be designers. We're still the first [auto brand] that has a software design user interface studio in Silicon Valley. It's a great place to be, very inspiring and a good community.

"We going to do the same thing in Beijing. We're finally building a design centre there and hopefully by mid-year we will complete that. It will be almost like a small version of our HQ design centre in Sindelfingen, with exterior, interior and also digital design all under one roof. We have 20 design staff now, which will rise to 40-50 or so.

"There is way more confidence in the industry now and I think design is playing a major role in the recovery. If you see the success we had as a company last year most of it was design-driven and it's not just us.

"Previously we had this situation where every car looked different, there was no particular Mercedes style, but now you see how we develop in a unique way, keeping the diversity from expressive small cars to very clean big cars basically, talking the same language but different executions. I think that's exciting. We have a lot of big surprises coming and some paradigm shifts - like what we did with the A-Class and even the S-Class or S-Class coupé, the C-Class too.

"Ultimately for me, design has three aspects: Emotion – how much does it turn you on? Intellect – does it fit with the brand and how new is it? And of course: Execution – how well is the handwork done? Those are my three main criteria to judge cars."

Gorden's top cars of 2013 Concept

1. BMW Pininfarina Gran Lusso Coupé
2. Cadillac Elmiraj
3. Kia Provo

"It was very well executed with a new solution for the BMW front end that was interesting, and simply an appealing car, which for me is almost the crucial aspect"


1. Jaguar F-Type Coupé
2. Porsche 918 Spyder
3. Ferrari LaFerrari

"The F-Type's a nicely balanced car, and a sports car for Jaguar is always something special. I really appreciate the job Ian Callum is doing."

By Guy Bird