During my leisure time I cannot simply look at a vehicle. When somebody says “that is beautiful” while talking about a car I often notice some feature and think “Not really, that bothers me now”. I just might be extremely demanding when it comes to design. Working with my team, I designed the new Mercedes-Benz Sprinter. “Just a van” you might think. How much visual design does a “box” need? A lot! Our motto for vans is “born to run”. So as a designer I have to communicate the reliability, the quality and the character of a tool, a workhorse. In contrast to passenger vehicle purchasers, the customers may not have this enthusiasm, the “wow effect”. They may not be the buyers who want to have the most exciting vehicle. I like to compare it to shopping at a hardware store: As a DIY enthusiast I would like to buy the best quality and most durable impact drill available. And I am happy once I find it. This is exactly the emotion which I want to make visible when I design a commercial vehicle. One must not underestimate the fact that Sprinter drivers have an emotional connection with the product. The feeling that they have a product which is precisely tailored to their needs. And a product whose appearance embodies quality and competence.
I began my career as an engineer. But actually, I always had a passion for drawing and designing. I gave up my career as an air conditioning systems developer when I was accepted into a school of design. I had the opportunity to go to Italy! At Pininfarina and Bertone I worked on passenger and commercial vehicles for Fiat, Alfa Romeo and Lancia. This was the perfect education for me. Then I moved on to Mercedes-Benz. In 2006 I had the opportunity to become the head designer of Freightliner in the USA. This was where I made the jump to commercial vehicle design. This was also where my love of commercial vehicles, including the biggest trucks, began. I got my commercial vehicle driver’s license and travelled around the truck stops in the USA. I often talked to drivers and became familiar with their strong emotional connection with their trucks. It was a fantastic time! In 2009 I returned to Sindelfingen and took on the responsibility for the design of the commercial vehicles, vans and trucks.
Back to the design of the new Sprinter: Too much knowledge restricts the creative process at the very beginning. The team simply began to draw ideas for the next generation Sprinter. We then got together and discussed these first sketches. We hung them all up next to each other and it slowly became clear what we wanted. Then came the input from the management: “Which qualities of the new vehicle do we have to communicate with the design? Where were we slightly too aggressive or too friendly with the design? Where were we “too hot” or “too cold”? Approximately 100 sketches produce 10 drafts. We select three scale models from these and we make two full-scale 1:1 models. The Board of Management and, naturally, Gorden Wagener (Head of Design at Mercedes-Benz) select the top two. The winning design then becomes part of the production of the new vehicle.
Naturally, one aspect of the new design consists of finding the right packaging for and harmonizing the design ideas with the new technology. The proportions are important: Where is the radiator bridge, how long is the overhang, how does the vehicle come together at the front with the typical Mercedes grille? Because we know that the transport industry and drivers have had something of a rowdy image in recent years, the new Sprinter could not afford to resemble Darth Vader’s mask. The vehicle’s competence needed to be emphasized but without becoming neutral, in other words boring. Our team not only consists of designers but also engineers in order to contribute innovative and functional ideas for the customers: Lashing rings, roof rails, attachments, ladders and so on. Ultimately, the new Sprinter also has to fit into the Mercedes-Benz family. That is why our team is involved in passenger vehicle projects and passenger vehicle designers also work on our projects: What should the next S-Class, the new A-Class or the next Actros look like? This exchange enables us to guarantee that all of the vehicles feel like a single family.
The Sprinter has always had a very striking appearance with attractive, full and powerful surfaces. And now with the even stronger front, I think this is almost as though it were the more natural design for the Sprinter than the original front end. When revising a model one rarely has this impression and thinks: “Wow, this looks the way it should have looked from the very beginning!” This is what I like most about the new Sprinter. Most of the configurations of the vehicle are 30 mm lower. Naturally, it looks better on the road as a result and this makes us designers very happy. The aerodynamics were another aspect. The vehicle is more aerodynamically efficient when there is less air between the road and the underbody. And the slightly harder suspension also makes the vehicle a little more dynamic. So with one single measure we have done the aerodynamics, the design and the handling a favor. Aerodynamics is a science –And the tail end plays the most important role: The airflow has a “jump angle” at the rear and if you comply with this then you have already done the most important thing to reduce consumption and emissions. Although the design of the new Sprinter appears more dynamic and the radiator at the front is a little steeper, the aerodynamics have not suffered. Although I do not believe that customers will say “man, the Sprinter now looks even better than my own E-Class”, but: Buyers will notice that the vehicle is more harmonious.
Personally, if I did not have any design specifications at all… Then my vision of commercial vehicles would be a free sculpture. I would simply work free-form. Abstract painting is my hobby, generating an abstract shape. I think that the hybridization of the vehicles will make it more easy to fit technical components in the future. For example, electric motors which are mounted on the axle or in the middle. I would think of something such as the architecture from Zaha Hadid or Frank Gehry, the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. When I think of a free sculpture then I mean simply creating shapes – with completely different formal freedoms, creating something never seen before. I would orient myself on architecture. Let us see what the future of commercial vehicle design has to offer… I’m very excited!