Stuttgart. While physicians continue to puzzle over whether time travel will one day be possible, the automobile designers at Mercedes-Benz have long entered the realms of the future. They envision tomorrow's world every day, designing automobiles which will not actually grace the roads for years or even decades to come. For the coming generation of series production models, the creative staff look five or ten years ahead. The designers at the five Mercedes-Benz Advanced Design Studios travel even further into the future, thinking three or more decades down the road. Future mobility is a leitmotif common to all strands of the design process which involves pursuing the ongoing development of the Mercedes-Benz design idiom and defining trends with new design ideas to keep a Mercedes looking fresh, aesthetic and stylish in the future without denying its roots and brand identity. For these designers, the future has long begun.
Global Advanced Design – the Mercedes-Benz design studios
The first Advanced Design Studio abroad went into operation in California in June 1990. Today, designers and modellers in Carlsbad apply themselves to evolving concepts for the exteriors of tomorrow's vehicles at premises covering around 1,200 square metres. A regular exchange of ideas and creative personnel takes place between the centre and its sister studios in Tokyo and Sindelfingen. The fourth studio in Como (Italy) is concerned exclusively with the interiors of future vehicles. The Villa Salazar close to the shore of Lake Como was formerly used by Gianni Versace for the production of ties and bow-ties. The latest Advanced Design Studio was recently inaugurated in Peking.
Professor h.c. Gorden Wagener, Head of Design at Mercedes-Benz, is responsible for all the studios. In addition to the team of around 440 designers who are concerned with the design of production vehicles, more than 60 designers are devoted to evolving the concepts which project the Mercedes brand up to half a century into the future. The creative staff in Como soak up regional influences in evolving ideas for the interiors of new vehicles. This famous triangle between the cities of Como, Milan and Turin is home to the furniture and fashion industries. Traditional craftsmanship enjoys a very high standing here – an ideal environment for the Advanced Design Studio. The same applies to the Asia region. The markets in Japan and China – both of which are of great importance to Mercedes-Benz – demand perfectly crafted vehicles offering the utmost in ergonomics and functionality. The design studios in Tokyo and Peking track down trends in this field, refining them and incorporating them into vehicle design. Particularly Tokyo as a megacity is an important trendsetter for the item "downsizing" in the premium segment. The designer challenge fundamental questions, for example what "being mobile" may mean in the future.
"Rather than chasing after fads, we seek to track down long-term trends which will enhance the value of our brand over decades," says Professor Wagener. "Ideas which meet the highest standards in terms of technology, performance, comfort and safety." A designer thus needs to "live in the future", thinking at least two to three generations of vehicle ahead. As such, the Advanced Design Studios provide creative environments in which the designers are able to indulge their imaginations, free of the constraints of series production considerations.
Production vehicle design at Mercedes-Benz – seamless quality
Design for production vehicles focuses on specific follow-up models on the basis of precisely defined performance or production specifications or legal requirements. This is a challenge which requires the disciplined application of creativity, adhering closely to concrete requirements. Under the direction of the Design Center in Sindelfingen, the designers throughout the world are involved in all the development processes relating to a new vehicle, be it a passenger car, commercial vehicle or bus, Mercedes-Benz, smart, or Maybach. From strategic and concept planning through operative process management to the actual design work, the Mercedes-Benz designers work in various departments on solutions for the automotive design of future production models.
1. Passenger car design: strategy and concept development
Mercedes-Benz Design creates and evolves vehicle designs from the architecture phase to the series production process. The Design remit also extends to creative development and the design of possible new model series and their variants for the Mercedes-Benz portfolio. Future mobility solutions and innovative showcars are also evolved from the initial design study to the prototype suitable for driving, in close consultation with the areas of Research and Development. In additional to actual vehicle design, the designers also carry out product design orders from exclusive premium manufacturers in areas such as transport, industrial design, lifestyle, and furniture under the Mercedes-Benz Style brand.
2. Passenger car design: control and management
All automobile design projects launched by Mercedes-Benz are centrally managed. The Design Center in Sindelfingen controls the design process throughout an automobile's entire life cycle in terms of quality, schedule management and cost control. The available know-how is deployed for the entire vehicle, comprising the exterior and interior, from the strategy phase through vehicle development and production up to the end of the series production phase. The designers are responsible for producing all design exhibits, from the clay model through 1:1 models to the mock-up and data control model, for creating all the data models required in the design process and for releasing all spline data for transfer to the tool process. The spline of a vehicle is the mathematically perfect geometric representation of the interior and exterior surfaces which are visible to the customer, taking into account all technical and aesthetic design requirements.
3. Passenger car design: exterior design
From A- to S-Class, from SLK to SLS, the designers develop the design of all passenger car series and are responsible for the exterior as well as user interface design and ergonomics. They apply themselves to the attendant projects throughout the entire development phase. The Design Center is also responsible for the design work which is necessary in the course of a model's life cycle, such as facelifts and modifications relating to change years.
4. Passenger car design: interior design
Beyond the traditional vehicle interior comprising seats, doors, roof liner, and dashboard with controls, the interior designers also design the graphics in the on-board computer, the menu structure, and the entire control logic. They require various specialists for the different tasks involved, such as product, graphic and software designers. Specialists for colour and trim create both the colours and the all material textures for the exterior and the interior of a car. From leather grains to metal structures and the gloss level of all surfaces every detail is accurately selected and adapted. Often distinct degrees of difference are deciding. Strategic strengthening of the interior area is necessary, as it has become much more complex in recent years and acquired greater importance.
5. Van and truck design
In the area of commercial vehicles, Mercedes-Benz designers develop the design of the Vito, Viano, Sprinter and Vario van series and the Accelo, Atego, Axor and Actros lines, along with the corresponding Unimog, Econic and S 2000 special-purpose vehicles. They carry out cross-brand and cross-range work in the Dodge (vans), Freightliner and Mitsubishi (trucks) programmes. The scope of design work covers the complete vehicle, comprising interior and exterior. The designers are concerned with the model series throughout the entire design process up to the start of production – from the initial design study through model selection and the decision on design freeze and release of the data control model to the coordination of design-specific measures and components.
The design procedure at Mercedes-Benz – ten steps to the finished automobile
The overall process from the initial drawing to final approval of the model takes around three years. Over this period a new Mercedes passes through a seemingly endless succession of development stages in which the designers work incrementally towards the final vehicle. The team slowly transforms initially competing design studies into the next generation of a Mercedes-Benz vehicle.
1. Drawing/rendering: As in the fashion world, the design process for an automobile always begins with a drawing, which may be produced by hand or on a computer. Ideas which previously only existed inside the designer's head become visible.
2. Digital/package: A virtual image of the new automobile is created on a computer. Proportions, dimensions and contours are simulated and checked for coherence and harmony.
3. 1:4 clay models: Not everything can be simulated on a computer. The next step thus entails producing clay models of every variant of a new automobile. Only then are the designers able to judge whether their designs also produce the desired effect in three dimensions.
4. Model selection: The final form of the new automobile is chosen from numerous variants. The exterior form of the future Mercedes-Benz model is decided at this point.
5. Cut model: The 1:4 clay model is scaled up to the vehicle's final dimensions. The first full-size "prototype" is produced.
6. 1:1 model: All the details of the new model are produced manually. A strikingly authentic model is created. All the characteristic features of the new car become apparent.
7. Interior sketches:The first step in the interior design process also involves producing drawings and renderings. The various equipment lines are created here – the interior in which the future driver is to feel at home. The leitmotif here is "perfect aesthetics" – a design approach committed to realising an attractive interior.
8. Colours & trims/control and display concepts:The materials and colours for the interior are chosen. The trim lines for the future automobile are defined from hundreds of fabric and leather samples and a quite endless spectrum of colours.
9. Interior clay model/interior data control model: The effects of all materials and colours are checked under "real conditions" on elaborately produced 1:1 interior models. Each material and colour is allocated a code and specified.
10. Model approval: Each design process concludes with approval of the model by the Board of Management. Following this approval, the new Mercedes-Benz is released for production.