Design by numbers #2015
The spotlight on #Mercedes
from within the motoring industry - this month. Mercedes should have tried harder to distinguish its new GLE coupe from its rival, argues our controversial insider, but the ‘SUC will be a success anyway.
I’ve been away for a week, and arrive back at my desk to find Mercedes-Benz has revealed yet another new niche model. The GLE coupe, in this case. Mercedes-Benz has long been determined to fill every niche imaginable, but in this case it’s playing catch up. That’s unusual, the three- pointed star usually leading with great success (if you quietly set aside the R-Class), the GLE coupe slotting into the same niche that BMW’s X6 created back in #2007
The thing is, the #GLE
not only fits into the #BMW
’s slot, but appears to have been pulled from the same mould as the X6. It’s inevitable that a pair of four-door #SUV
coupes might share something of a similar shape, but I think the GLE coupe and #X6 #E71
really could have been separated at birth. There are some design identifiers for each brand - headlamps, grilles and tail lights - but take those away and you could possibly get away with swapping badges.
It’s not just the GLE coupe and X6 either, squint at the #C-Class
and I think there are striking similarities, proportionally and in their details and finish. Indeed, start really lining up respective ranges and there’s a lot of commonality in design, despite each claiming to have their own visual brand identity. That’s perhaps unfair, as yes there are distinctions, but to many they might just not be distinctive enough to mark them out as individual.
Who to blame then? The designers? Surely it’s down to them, but the real reason behind visual convergence - not just between #Mercedes-Benz
and BMW, I might add - is efficiency. The ever increasing demand to eke out as much fuel as possible from a car means their shapes are dictated by the flow of air in a wind tunnel, as much as they are by the stylist’s pen. Design is no longer merely an art, it’s a science that’s as much about creating as little drag as possible, while still looking good.
It’s perhaps easier to retain some distinction when coming from a previous model and instilling some common features to underline the new car’s heritage. But with a new model and a new niche, it's pretty much inevitable that two different design teams produce similar results.
That creates a problem, as demands on economy will only become greater, which will only exacerbate the problem further. There will, of course, always be ways around this. As demanding as the need is for efficient air flow, the designer will always find a way to add some flair. Innovation helps too-active aerodynamics allow a car to change its shape at differing speeds, granting compromises that wouldn’t be possible if the shape was fixed.
New lighting technology also helps, LEDs allowing designers to build a visual identity with light and the shape of the light housings. There’s material surfacing too, highlighting some body panels in different materials, be it glass, carbon fibre, plastic or any other for that matter. Then there’s paint and livery choices - the ability to personalise via decal packs and contrasting colour choices offering not just visual distinction, but allowing owners some degree of personalisation, too.
It’s already happening - the A-Class can be had with sticker packs to change its appearance. And the base model is a blank canvas for customers to choose their style, trim levels no longer merely a badge, but bringing reprofiled bumpers, different wheels and alternative cabin detailing. That allows the A-Class to stand out among all the other two-box hatchbacks on the market. The #Mercedes-Benz-GLE
coupe is another story, however. To my eyes, it simply doesn’t look different enough - niche or not.
Our insider is a globe-trotting road tester driving the latest cars from Mercedes-Benz and its rivals.