Daimler's Chief Design Officer sees a future in 'sustainable luxury'

The man behind wild concepts like the Mercedes-Maybach Ultimate Luxury Shuttle has an eye on ease and aesthetics.

By Hannah Elliott, October 31 2019

Gorden Wagener, Daimler's chief design officer, wants to make Mercedes "the most loved luxury brand in the world." Oh, and it's a world where sustainability is paramount. Can the two co-exist?

Q: Let’s get right to it: Is “sustainable luxury” an oxymoron? 

No, it’s not. Sustainability will be key to the luxury of the future. Luxury is about being admired by society for what you have, or what you’ve achieved, or what you do. So it’s crucial to show some responsibility to society, which of course includes environmental sustainability.

Gorden Wagener: "Simplicity is so much harder to create than complexity".
Gorden Wagener: "Simplicity is so much harder to create than complexity".

Q: You post some really futuristic designs on your Instagram account, such as the Mercedes-Maybach Ultimate Luxury Shuttle, which looks like a drone or a flying taxi. Is that purely theoretical, or are there some things we see in it that we can expect at some point in real life?

Flight of fancy or a window to tomorrow? Gorden Wagener and his drone-like Mercedes-Maybach Luxury Shuttle concept.
Flight of fancy or a window to tomorrow? Gorden Wagener and his drone-like Mercedes-Maybach Luxury Shuttle concept.

Not in the near future. Autonomous flyers and drones can solve major problems of congestion; one day, these things will replace cars or be additional to cars. It will almost be like the Star Wars movie where you see these flying objects that can go up and down. I mean, this is far out—20 or 30 years, maybe.

And, one more thing: Autonomy is easier when you’re dealing with flying things than on the ground. We already have planes that fly on autopilot today! So autonomy like this is not far off.

Q: Is there value in making something so extraordinary while we’re still figuring out how to navigate even just the infrastructure for regular electric vehicles?

On the ground, it’s so much more complicated than in the air. You have so many factors, whether it’s pedestrians walking in, traffic lights, or unpredictable and complicated roads.

Q: Is the main challenge to introducing more luxury electric vehicles technological, financial, or psychological?

If you do the math, there are more and more electric vehicles running around, and you need more and more charging points. Range in electric cars will extend, but when you see how far people drive or commute each day, it’s already more than enough.

So it’s more a psychological problem. People are afraid of running out of power, which – more than likely – will never happen.

Q: What are you working toward?

My personal goal is to make this brand the most loved luxury brand in the world. The important thing in that statement is that there are two parts to it: I want to make Mercedes the most-loved brand, and I want to make sure Mercedes is the foremost luxury brand.

"My personal goal is to make this brand the most loved luxury brand in the world."
"My personal goal is to make this brand the most loved luxury brand in the world."

Q: You have a particular advantage and unique perspective, because in your daily work you touch on technology, art, design, engineering, and so forth.

Certainly. Designers are the best people to create the future, because we are people who are living in the future already, and it’s easier to create the future when you’re already living in it. We love beauty, and we love to create beautiful things.

We love to create easy things, too, because simplicity is so much harder to create than complexity. In a world that is getting more complex, we need things that are simple and easy.

And of course, it comes along with making a better planet, as we discussed, but also making the world a more beautiful place! This is what we as humans love. This is what is timeless. This is why I love this job.

Hannah Elliott

Hannah Elliott is the resident motoring writer at Bloomberg.


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