Beginning in the 1980s Mercedes-Benz design adhered to a strict logic initiated by Bruno Sacco. Today it has reached a degree of maturity unique among brand competitors. No other automotive brand walks the tightrope between innovation and brand tradition with such sure-footedness, expertise and ambition. Proof of this can be found in a growing clientele that understands and respects Mercedes-Benz design.
The Mercedes-Benz brand has undergone historic changes over the course of its development: for over a decade it has no longer just stood for vehicles from the upper segment. The product drive launched in the first half of the 1990s led to successful new concepts that tapped entirely new target groups. The number of new models called for fresh forms of expression that shared a common goal, namely that every model series and every product should possess all values that customers associate with a Mercedes-Benz. The most basic rule of Bruno Sacco’s Mercedes-Benz design philosophy therefore acquired a particular relevance: “A Mercedes-Benz will always look like a Mercedes-Benz.”
The watershed was reached in March 1993. The focus of the
Mercedes-Benz stand at the Geneva Motor Show was not a new production model packed with technical innovations, but for the first time a design study. The public admired the coupe study with its four oval headlamps, muscular sculpted wheel arches and highly dynamic radiator grille harmoniously integrated into the engine hood. And when the E-Class with the “four-eyed face” from the W 210 series went into production two years later one thing was clear: It was not just the new sedan that was to be seen in a new light, but the entire Mercedes-Benz brand. The slogan went: “See Mercedes with new eyes!” From now on the focus was no longer just on the value of a Mercedes-Benz product, but on its importance to the Mercedes-Benz brand. In the development of the E-Class with its elliptical headlamps, Bruno Sacco recognized a unique opportunity to link together technical and formal innovation. This new design factor was successfully replicated, for example, in successive model series, including the 208 (CLK-Class), 220 (S-Class) and 215 (CL-Class). From this point on Mercedes-Benz approached the competition war in the automotive market as a competition between brands.
What preceded brand competition in the 1990s was a two-decade-long battle between manufacturers to create the best car image. This in turn derived from the competitive struggle to achieve best product quality. Nowadays the spotlight focuses more on emotionally charged differentiation criteria such as brand image or design criteria. The external appearance of a product is a crucial factor in people’s decision to buy.
More than ever before, today’s brilliant design ideas arise out of changed technological requirements. Knowledge gained from the wind tunnel, for example, calls for concrete formal solutions. On the other hand, innovative forms call for innovative technical solutions, such as the use of new materials. One goal pursued by Mercedes-Benz, for example, is to use painted metal rather than paneling in order to make a not insignificant contribution to a car’s environmental compatibility. As a result today’s design decision processes are always taken in collaboration with other development departments. Aesthetic authority, however, is non-negotiable.