Mercedes-Benz has opened a new design centre in Nice, along the luxury-filled southern coast of France. It is situated in the middle of the Sophia Antipolis Science and Technology Park, dubbed France's ‘Silicon Valley’.
It’s not simply an excuse for German designers to get some sun, since the region is also a “cradle of the brand”. In 1899, local businessman Emil Jellinek took part in car races on the Côte d'Azur under the pseudonym ‘Monsieur Mercédès, his daughter’s name. That’s where the ‘Mercedes’ in ‘Mercedes-Benz’ comes from.
The high-tech design centre makes old-school clay models, but also specialises in sustainably-sourced materials, sports some high-tech virtual-reality design tools, and plays with futuristic interior technologies before they’re commercially viable.
Naturally, the promotional cycle for the new studio needs something with a bang. So the company lets its designers loose on a pie-in-the-sky project called the ‘Vision Mercedes Simplex’. It sounds like a wrestling move but is actually an awesome little design study.
That name alludes to the ‘simple to drive’ (aka Simplex) Mercedes 35 PS car that dominated racing in the region from 1901. This wooden-wheeled horseless carriage could carry speeds of up to 100km/h, and is hailed by many as the first modern car.
"Only a brand that is as strong as Mercedes-Benz is capable of the physical symbiosis of history and future,” reckons Chief Design Officer Gorden Wagener. Ok cool, we just like gawping at it.
The Vision Mercedes Simplex reinterprets the historic car as a two-seater with freestanding wheels, and an “alternative drive” (presumably electric). Of course, that’s only enough to slowly move the concept around for display purposes.
The radiator blends a frame coloured rosé gold – reminiscent of the bronze radiator grille of the historic model – with an opening in the form of a large lens-shaped black panel/3D display, rather than a radiator grille. This detail is billed as a symbol of the “transformation of the luxury brand Mercedes-Benz into the digital world”.
The omission of a windscreen, as on the historic model, allows a more seamless transition from the front-end flap to the instrument panel. The slim reversing lamps are horizontally integrated into the rear section and separate the upper section from the lower section of the exterior shell. A leather bag rounds off the tail, in lieu of a boot.
The entire interior is an homage to the DNA of the Simplex racing car. The design of the steering column and the switches on the instrument panel were apparently inspired both by motorcycles and by nautical design. Strong contrasts are made between the black/white contrast paint and the ‘azure blue’ upholstery.
The UI/UX design “demonstrates a Mercedes-Benz vision of digital luxury”. The driver is only shown the information they actually require in the specific driving situation. In other words the right information is shown on the display at the right time, e.g. the speed, navigation instructions or vehicle information.
Forgive the waffle, but look at it!