Wini ideas on design
An afternoon with Filipino Mercedes-Benz designer Wini Camacho
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Mercedes-Benz exterior designer Winifredo Camacho was in town recently. He gave a series of talks, including one to students at his alma mater, the University of Santo Tomas.
He dropped by the showroom of Mercedes-Benz distributor Auto Nation Group (ANG) to give a glimpse of the state of automobile design in this age of disruption and imminent upheaval in the industry.
He also shared some of his insights about design and the automotive industry.
Mercedes-Benz (and most European carmakers) employ longer life cycles for their models. They usually change the body of a car every seven to eight years, versus four to five for Japanese and other Asian brands.
Camacho surmises that the timeliness of the design reflects that product cycle. Thus, the Japanese tend to use shapes that are quite attractive and radical, but are designed not to age so well—indicating that it’s time to change cars.
By contrast, he and his design team favor classic shapes and silhouettes that give a certain twist to make them look fresh and attractive.
Importance of aerodynamics
Hidden deep in the spec sheet of many European cars is their coefficient of drag, an indication of how easily the car can slice through the air.
This impacts the cars’ fuel efficiency and quietness. And it’s not just the cars’ front profile that matters.
The latest models incorporate multiple aerodynamic aids, such as lighting units that extend into the bodywork, and shrouds flanking the backlight to direct air properly.
Of course, the German consumer is quite aware of and concerned with aerodynamics. Car publications hailed the CLA when it was first introduced as the most aerodynamic car yet released.
Camacho studied industrial design at the UST. This gave him a good starting point, but he wanted to pursue car design as a specialty.
Since the Philippines had no automotive design school, he continued his studies a the Art Center College of Design in Switzerland, and then finished his BS Transportation Design with honors at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California.
He notes that automotive design schools are coming up in Asia, but the most prominent ones are still in Europe and California.
There was a time in Mercedes-Benz’s recent history when it went from being acknowledged as having the “best cars in the world” to just playing catch-up with the likes of BMW and Lexus.
Camacho acknowledges that during this time, Mercedes saw itself as the leader, and left its design and innovation work to stagnate.
It was a wake-up call for the company, and it had to work hard to get back to class-leading design and engineering.
Concept cars are an exciting field
Camacho has designed concepts for Mercedes, notably the G-Code and the Concept X-Class.
The G-Code is a study for a future subcompact SUV, smaller than the GLA, BMW X1, and the MINI Countryman.
Its most prominent design feature is a pulsating display embedded in the front grille, meant to recall the glowing warp drive nacelles of the Starship Enterprise.
The Concept X-Class combines the classic pickup attributes of toughness and off-road capability with the elegance and premium image required of a Mercedes.
The production version of the X-Class has recently taken its bow. Camacho notes that the production car could end up as very different from the concept version, as there will be inherent limitations in body structure and regulations.
Mercedes has big plans for the X-Class in South America and Australia, where the pickup is seen not just as a utility vehicle but as a personal or family vehicle.
Camacho figures that the X-Class would be an appropriate vehicle for the Philippine market, with many pickup models taking premium positioning.
ANG president Felix Ang didn’t divulge any plans for the X-Class pickup, but he had that certain gleam in his eye that indicated this could come soon.
Camacho has a soft spot for the vehicles he has worked on, such as the E-Class sedan.
He also likes the C-Class Coupe. The car uses the sporty version of the Mercedes front fascia, with the prominent three-pointed star in the center of the grille.
The sweep of the roofline as it joins the rear deck is quite elegant, he points out.
The taillights, which are a wider format rather than the squarish ones in the C-Class sedan, help give the car a sense of grounded solidity. This makes the car look more steady and stable.
SUVs will continue their rise
Mercedes has built its reputation on its sedans, but many markets are shifting to crossovers and SUVs.
Camacho is glad that the design language of sedans has been successfully reinterpreted for its larger, taller siblings.
SUVs will be a continuing preference. In the US, a strong economy and affordable fuel is in the SUV’s favor.
In Asia, its commanding driving presence, performance on poor roads, and space versatility are making it an increasingly preferred segment.
Electrification will lead to radical changes in design
The car industry is in a state of upheaval, with electrification, car sharing, and autonomous driving technology jointly wreaking massive changes, including on design.
Cars’ shapes will become more radical, according to Camacho. The first generation of electric cars, including the Tesla sedan and SUV, had to conform to conventional profiles and design cues.
This will change with succeeding generations of electric vehicles, when their different layouts—batteries and motors on the floor, no engine compartment—will manifest in their silhouettes.
“I’ve been with Mercedes-Benz for the past 20 years. Now is an exciting time to be in the car industry, and to be a designer,” said Camacho with a winning grin.
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