The growing importance of so-called emerging markets is forcing manufacturers of luxury goods to re-evaluate what they are doing, says Mercedes-Benz head of design Prof Gorden Wagener.
China is now the world's largest car market and the number one for Mercedes' flagship S-Class. The manufacturer will sell a total of 100,000 cars there this year. In five years' time China will be mopping up a third of all the luxury goods sold in the world, says Wagener.
Understanding the global market
'Of course, you cannot do a Mercedes that looks Chinese because then you are dead,' he adds. 'But when you talk about luxury you have to understand what people interpret as luxury. In Europe it is very clean. In America it is more classical. In Asia it is more opulent.
'We have to analyse local taste and style. That's why we have built a design studio in China. We would entertain the idea of doing special editions and even special cars for China, such as our long-wheelbase car (based on the E-Class).'
Reflecting the brand's heritage
Wagener took command of Mercedes design including the truck division, Smart and Maybach two years ago and is currently on a mission to ensure future models reflect the brand's values and heritage. The SLS supercar was the first car completed under his stewardship and gives pointers to how he wants future sporty models to look, although limousines will continue with a more traditional grille.
'When people buy a Mercedes they want the best product,' he says. 'We want to build the most beautiful car in each and every segment. As a luxury maker we want to be the haute couture of car design.'
Wagener says he will refer to the company's 'iconic history' with future designs, but will never embrace the retro look. 'What we do is take inspiration from the past. We do not make a copy,' he says.
He hinted that the next A-Class will be a more sporty and exciting car, while the B-Class will continue to emphasise practicality, but with greater style. 'We will not build two minivans again,' he says. He also said that he would like to build a replacement for the Smart Roadster if the chance arises. 'But we have just started to redefine the Smart brand, so let's do our homework first.'