Mercedes-Benz design chief Gorden Wagener has a big job ahead of him – creating a bold identity for Daimler’s new EQ subbrand that informs consumers about the electric cars’ new and innovative powertrain technology.
Wagener says electric motors could reshape the way cars look.
“The architecture is going to change fundamentally,” he said.
Daimler previewed its new EQ electric car brand Sept. 29 through the Generation EQ concept at the Paris Motor Show. It’s the first step in launching 10 new electric SUVs, sedans, and compacts by 2025 in Daimler’s strategy to become the global leader in electric vehicle technology, CEO Dieter Zetsche said at the auto show.
Mercedes says the first model will show up in 2019, and will be priced to compete with similar cars powered by traditional fossil fuel-powered engines.
Wagener has to oversee the team to create a brand image tapping into the Mercedes-Benz legacy while also making it distinctive enough for buyers to feel like they’re staying authentic to their green credentials. It’s similar to the branding and market image that Tesla has been able to harness.
The Generation EQ shows the latest in this type of design and tech packaging. It has a gentle arc from the front end to the hood, with a crossover design popular in luxury vehicles. The concept vehicle has no door handles, as the doors open automatically when the drivers waves his hand over a sensor.
Small displays showing images from rear-facing cameras have replaced sideview mirrors. The dashboard has a touch screen floating behind the steering wheel, giving it a new advanced tech look.
Electric cars “started out with a bit of an eco-friendly, responsible tag,” Wagener said at the Paris show display. “They weren’t sexy, they weren’t luxury cars, and they didn’t sell.”
Mercedes-Benz started out doing what non-Tesla automakers have tended to do – place batteries and electric motors into existing models such as the B class.
The Tesla Model S has stood out enough to be taken seriously by luxury buyers. It outsold the Mercedes non-electric S class in the U.S. last year.
Wagener says his goal for EQ is to explore new options in layout and styling permitted by electric technology, like the stretched-out wheelbase. Wheels have to be stretched out, since in a crash, the only safe place for the batteries is between the wheels, he said.
Another distinction between electric and internal combustion cars is that electric cars don’t need air vents to cool the pistons. For now the Generation EQ still has something that looks like a grille. It has a black glass panel at the front that incorporates the star and familiar horizontal bars, glowing white and blue.
Wagener expects to see electric cars becoming closer to living spaces – as electronics improve and autonomous systems are adopted. As for now, he’d prefer to see a steering wheel kept in place, though he does think it can be retractable.
“We’re moving toward designing lounges on wheels,” Wagener said. “But one that I can still drive when I want to.”