120 years of Mercedes - from premium automobile brand to holistic luxury brand

Stuttgart, Apr 20, 2020

In April 1900, the then Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft (DMG) and businessman Emil Jellinek laid the foundation for one of the most valuable luxury brands in the world. The automobile enthusiast, who lived in Nice, was the largest dealer of Daimler vehicles at the time and had been registering them for racing events. From then on, all DMG vehicles were to bear the name of his daughter Mercédès. The Mercedes 35 PS, the first car named after her, won almost all races during the Nice race week in 1901 and fascinated the public with a completely new, elegant design language. The name Mercedes immediately became a worldwide synonym for innovation and luxury in automotive engineering. The goal of the perfect realization of luxury and the driving of innovation are part of the brand DNA right from the start.

The first Mercedes – the first modern automobile

The Mercedes 35 PS not only achieved spectacular motorsport success, but it was also the first modern automobile. With an independent form, it ended the age of motorised carriages and changed the world of mobility. To this day, the Mercedes 35 PS is considered a masterpiece of technical refinement and beauty. Characteristic features are its elongated shape, an engine installed deep into the frame and the radiator organically integrated into the front, which as a honeycomb radiator, became the brand’s distinctive feature. The name Mercedes was registered as a trademark on June 23th, 1902 and legally protected on September 26th, 1902.

The three-pointed star rises

In 1909, DMG added a striking trademark to the Mercedes lettering: the three-pointed star. The star’s three points symbolised Gottlieb Daimler’s vision of the universal use of his engines “on land, on water and in the air.” He used a star to mark his home on a postcard with a view of Deutz during his time as technical director of the Deutz gas engine factory. The Mercedes star was used in the early years without an encircling ring and, from 1910 onwards, it was used in a sculptural embossed form mainly to decorate the radiator of vehicles. In 1913, the three-pointed star was combined with a wide ring and the lettering “Mercedes,” supplemented by four small stars in the circle. This trademark subsequently adorned the steering wheel hub of all Mercedes cars.

The glorious Benz name with a laurel wreath

In the same year as DMG, the then competitor company, Benz & Cie. had also developed its own trademark. Carl Benz had invented the automobile in 1886 with the three-wheeled Patent Motor Car, and since then, had stood for competence in engine and vehicle construction. In the trademark introduced in 1909, the “Benz” lettering was framed by a laurel wreath as a central element. This classic badge of honour – of the winner of sporting competitions – referred to the success of Benz & Cie. in automobile races.
Just like Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft, Benz & Cie. has repeatedly set new standards in automotive development with numerous innovations – for example, with the “Blitzen-Benz”, presented in 1909. It was the first car with a combustion engine capable of speeds of over 200 km/h. This meant it was twice as fast as an aircraft of the time. The innovative design of this vehicle was the first to follow aerodynamic findings.

The star and laurel wreath shine together

When Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft and Benz & Cie. merged in 1926, a new trademark was created. It brought together the essential elements of the previous emblems: The three-pointed star remained prominently in the centre. The word “Mercedes” moved upwards from the lower edge of the ring, and the name “Benz” took its place. The Benz laurel wreath combined both lettering. Thus, the Mercedes-Benz brand was born. The wording “Mercedes-Benz” was registered as a trademark on October 7th, 1927 and the logo as a trademark on August 28th, 1928. The trademark still adorns vehicles today in a discreetly adapted version and is regarded throughout the world as the epitome of tradition, innovation and luxury in automotive engineering.

Design balanced between tradition and modernity

Thanks to its conceptual creativity and strong innovative power, Mercedes-Benz has, to this day, succeeded in giving new impetus to automotive progress, reinventing individual mobility time and again and opening up new areas of application. Behind its worldwide success and reputation, however, are not only innovative engineering achievements but also a design strategy that skilfully mediates between tradition and progress – right from the start.

Dream cars of the 1930s

While powerfully modelled lines characterised the Mercedes-Benz models of the 1920s, from the early 1930s onwards the design focused on softer, flowing lines and rounded form elements. Highlights of this development were the Type 500 K from 1934 and its successor, the 540 K, introduced in 1936. With their tailor-made shapes and elegant, flowing lines, they are still considered objects of perfection and beauty today. The special roadster version is regarded as the absolute dream car of the 1930s. The coupé version established the modern coupé tradition of Mercedes-Benz.

Into the modern age with the pontoon form

In 1953, Mercedes-Benz took the step into the modern age with the Type 180. The saloon was characterised by the so-called three-box design – the third “box” after the engine compartment and passenger cell was the boot. The self-supporting “pontoon” body was convincing not only because of its greater stability and improved accident safety. For the first time, the fenders and headlights were fully integrated into the body, which also included the engine compartment and the luggage compartment at the rear. The result was a harmonious, generously encased interior by the standards of the time.

Design icons like the legendary “Gullwing”

Many outstanding Mercedes-Benz models had a lasting influence on the design development of the automobile and became design icons: For example, the “Gullwing” from 1954. The Mercedes-Benz 300 SL was the ultimate in automotive design of its time. To this day it remains a highly coveted dream car and was voted “Sports Car of the Century” by an international jury of automotive experts in 1999. The 300 SL not only fascinates with its gullwing doors, it is also the first Mercedes-Benz series passenger car since 1945 not to have a vertical radiator grille. Instead, it is adorned with a horizontal air intake opening with the star in the middle. This new front characterises all subsequent SL generations. The vertical headlights with integrated indicators introduced in 1957 on the 300 SL Roadster became a representative stylistic feature and shaped the front design of Mercedes-Benz passenger cars until the early 1970s. Today, Mercedes-Benz is the only manufacturer to integrate its trademark both in the radiator grille and in a plastic version on the bonnet.

The unrivalled shape of the “Fintail”

The 220, 220 S and 220 SE limousines, popularly known as “Fintails” and introduced in 1959, also set standards with their inimitable form that combined function and elegance. The tail fins, which were as beautiful as they were helpful when parking, and the lavish all-round view anticipated the changing customer expectations at an early stage. The “Fintail” Mercedes was also the world’s first vehicle with a rigid passenger cell and energy-absorbing crumple zones. It thus opened up a new chapter in safety technology.

Commonality versus differentiation

Despite all the formal similarities that make the different model series instantly recognisable as members of the Mercedes-Benz model family, the design also creates the necessary differentiation expected by the customer. For example, the two-door coupé version of the 220 SE presented in 1961 featured independent design elements, including the elimination of the tail fins. The clear lines of this timelessly beautiful coupé dominated the Mercedes-Benz design of the 1960s and influenced the design of subsequent saloon series in the upper and upper mid-size classes.

Innovation and tradition in balance

Mercedes-Benz also wrote design history with concept and experimental vehicles such as the C 111 from 1969. Although it was never mass-produced, it provided a strong impetus for future automotive development. Design innovations are characteristic of Mercedes-Benz, but the brand’s identity is always preserved – in the case of the C 111, for example, through the gullwing doors, which celebrated their return in 2009 in the SLS AMG. So, there is never a choice between innovation or against tradition - both are the goal. The top premise is that a Mercedes-Benz must always be recognisable as a Mercedes-Benz – and not just because of the three-pointed star at the front.

Gorden Wagener, Chief Design Officer Daimler Group: “It’s all about understanding brand identity as a long-term strategy and carefully developing the values and characteristics that shape this identity. We achieve this by cultivating proven stylistic elements of our brand and combining them with new ideas without changing their essence.” The radiator grille, for example, has been reinterpreted in both its basic proportions and its detailed design. However, its overall appearance is still just as unmistakable as it was 120 years ago.

Creating new market segments with conceptual creativity

With this design strategy, Mercedes-Benz has succeeded in developing new concepts and also opening up completely new market segments. In 1977, the Estate made its debut as the first lifestyle station wagon to bear the slogan “Tourism and Transport”. 1979 was the birth year of the quintessential off-road vehicle G-Class, which became a legend from the very beginning and continues to captivate customers after more than 40 years. The compact Mercedes-Benz 190, introduced in 1982, founded the ancestral line of today’s C-Class, which has since become a bestseller with four model variants. In 1997, the M-Class followed, the world’s first premium SUV.

In 2004, the CLS founded a new market segment as the first four-door coupé. For the first time, it combined the elegance and dynamism of a coupé with the comfort and functionality of a saloon. Customers were delighted, competitors amazed: For years the CLS remained the only four-door coupé in its class. In 2012, Mercedes-Benz once again set an example of conceptual creativity with the CLS Shooting Brake and underlined its leading role in design. The CLS Shooting Brake is clearly a coupé in its proportions, but with five doors and a roof that extends all the way to the rear, it offers considerable new possibilities. In view of the great success, Mercedes-Benz has also transferred both model variants, the CLA and CLA Shooting Brake, to the compact segment.

The new design era of sensual purity

With the completely newly developed A-Class in 2012, Mercedes-Benz not only completely redefined the compact segment but made a visible departure towards the new design era of Sensual Purity. The new, progressive design language, which was developed by chief designer Gorden Wagener and his team after his promotion in 2008, aims to create clear forms and sensual surfaces that stage high-tech and arouse emotions at the same time. It expresses the two-sidedness of intelligence and emotion. This also applies to the interior. Here, the focus is on the balance of traditional craftsmanship and high-tech. As digital development progresses, Mercedes-Benz UX designers are creating networked living spaces that connect people, cars, homes and workplaces.

Thanks to the design philosophy of Sensual Purity, Mercedes-Benz has made the transition from traditional to modern luxury. It made a decisive contribution to the rejuvenation of the brand and the company's sales success. “With our design, we show that it is possible to inspire with avant-garde ideas and still be true to the spirit of a brand that is over 120 years old,” said Gorden Wagener. “We have transformed the traditional luxury of Mercedes-Benz into modern luxury, reinterpreted the brand with the star and made it fascinating, tangible and above all desirable for young customers as well.”

Avant-garde electro-aesthetics of the future

The future of Mercedes-Benz design will be even more progressive and avant-garde. This is demonstrated by the first all-electric model of the new EQ product and technology brand. The EQC (power consumption combined: 20.8-19.7 kWh/100 km; CO2 emissions combined: 0 g/km) has many pioneering design details and brand-typical colour accents. The front headlights and air intake are particularly striking. They merge into a black-panel electro-aesthetic. Even in the high-quality interior, the Mercedes is a pioneer of avant-garde electro-aesthetics among electric vehicles. The novel interior design is inspired by the world of consumer electronics. For example, the finned collar of the instrument panel is reminiscent of the cooling fins of a hi-fi amplifier. Outside and inside, the EQC embodies the design language of progressive luxury.

On the way to becoming a holistic luxury brand

Whether vehicles, typeface or showroom – the design philosophy of Sensual Purity pervades all areas of the brand – and goes far beyond. Since 2010, Mercedes-Benz designers have also been working with selected partners under the Mercedes-Benz Style label to design a wide range of products beyond the automobile.

These include, for example, the interior of the exclusive Airbus helicopter “Helicopter H145,” the luxurious motor yacht “ARROW460 – Granturismo” and the futuristic pendant light “Ameluna” by Artemide. They carry the unmistakable, progressive design language into other product worlds and areas of life such as mobility, lifestyle and interior design. Mercedes-Benz is thus developing from a premium automotive brand into a holistic luxury brand.

“Vision Mercedes Simplex” – Symbol of the transformation of brand-specific luxury

With the 2019 sculpture “Vision Mercedes Simplex,” the designers have visualised the origin and future of the luxury brand Mercedes-Benz in a fascinating way in 2019. It symbolises the transition to a new era of design and technology. At the same time, it is a homage to the historical heritage and birth of the brand. The “Vision Mercedes Simplex” carries the pioneering spirit and design features of that time well into the 21th century. The message: The passion for luxury and innovation is part of the brand DNA. And this DNA gives Mercedes-Benz the strength to keep setting new standards in mobility – yesterday, today and tomorrow.

The sculpture thus makes it clear that Mercedes-Benz is a pioneer in the transformation of the automobile and mobility towards sustainable and digital luxury – just as it was around 120 years ago during the transformation from the motorised carriage to the modern automobile. Gorden Wagener: “Only a brand as strong as Mercedes-Benz can succeed in the physical symbiosis of history and future. The ‘Vision Mercedes Simplex’ symbolises the transformation of the brand-specific luxury of Mercedes-Benz.”

The most valuable luxury car brand in the world

Thanks to its uninterrupted success story, Mercedes-Benz has been able to continuously increase its brand value. Since 2016, the brand with the three-pointed star has consistently been the world's most valuable luxury automobile brand and is the only European brand among the top 10 in the “Best Global Brands 2019” ranking by the renowned U.S. brand consulting firm Interbrand. “For me, it is the ultimate task to develop a brand icon like Mercedes-Benz from a respected brand of fathers into a respected and beloved brand for all generations,” says Bettina Fetzer, Head of Marketing Mercedes-Benz AG. “Mercedes-Benz is then, as now, a brand that arouses emotions and provides a holistic experience for our customers. Our goal is to firmly anchor this brand in people's hearts for at least another 120 years.”

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120 years of Mercedes - from premium automobile brand to holistic luxury brand