In the last couple of weeks. German automaker Mercedes-Benz has been making waves. It wasn't because of some new luxury sedan or high performance coupe, but because the automaker has officially declared their imminent entry into a very new market not only for them, but for the premium market as a whole: the pick-up truck class.
And in true M-B tradition, they call it the X-Class.
We can go on about the details and how exciting it is for Mercedes-Benz to participate in the class known for tough workhorses, but we thought it best to contact the designer directly. His name is Winifredo Camacho.
Yes, he's a Filipino automotive designer working with Mercedes-Benz.
Wini, as he is known to colleagues, already has a very extensive resume and is a very accomplished automotive designer.
He graduated cum laude from the University of Santo Tomas with a BA in Fine Arts with a Major in Industrial Design in 1986. Early in his career, he worked on furniture and interiors, followed by a variety of products including toys in Hong Kong. But he took a new calling and decided to work on cars, and so he followed up his studies with a BS in Transportation Design from the ArtCenterCollege of Design in Pasadena, California, and then started work with Mercedes-Benz. Some of his notable works include the facelift of the C-Class (W203) in 2003 and the E-Class (W212) in 2006.
Currently, Wini still works with Mercedes-Benz Production cars as their Senior Exterior Designer in Singelfingen, Germany. We contacted him, and he gladly obliged us with a story about his career, his projects, and designing his ultimate dream car.
VP: How long have you been in automotive design?
WC:I started my career as a car designer when I got hired by MB Advanced Design Center in Irvine, California in May 1998.
VP: How did you get started in this?
WC:I’ve always been drawn to design ever since I was a kid. I studied Industrial Design at UST. I worked 3 years in the Philippines as a product and graphic designer. I then later went to Hong Kong to work as a product designer for a toy company. During my time there I started to read the Japanese magazine Car Styling regularly. It was the start of my obsession with car design. After having enough funds, I applied and got accepted in the Transportation Design program of Art Center (Europe) in Vevey, Switzerland. After a year the school closed (due to lack of sponsors) and I transferred to their main campus in Pasadena, California. After graduation, I interviewed with several companies and got hired by MB Advanced Design Center in Irvine, California.
VP: Where do you draw your design inspirations from?
WC: I basically get my inspiration from almost anything that piques my interest. It doesn’t have to be an object nor has it to be beautiful. I’m drawn to anything out of the ordinary, mysterious or that delves into the unknown. Just the possibility of discovering and creating something different and unique excites me lot. I’m also inspired by creatively simple solutions to complex problems. I’m also fascinated by objects or realms in its most absolute and pure form.
VP: Can you describe the process that takes place between your initial concept drawings to when the production version reaches showrooms?
WC:A typical project (for car exteriors) would start with research, bench marking and analysis of the technical package of the car to be designed. This would be followed by initial ideation sketches. Different concepts will be chosen for further development in 2D culminating in high quality design renderings to be presented to the top managers. Several of these design proposals will be chosen to be translated into quarter scale clay models.
After 2-3 months of development, 3 proposals will be chosen to be developed further into full-size models. After another 2-3 months of development, one of the models (or a combination of the models) is chosen to be developed for the final production version. The design process up to the full-size model phase involves intense competition among designers. The last phase involves class A surfacing, final engineering work and preparation for manufacturing. The duration of the whole process is around 3 years.
VP: The E-Class was your work. How do you feel -as a designer- when you see one on the road?
WC:It felt great when it came out and I’m still very proud of it. But I don’t like living in the past and have moved on since then. As a designer, you have to be constantly hungry for new challenges (and not get stuck with past accomplishments) otherwise you’ll stagnate and lose your creative and competitive edge. This aspect is very critical in the extremely competitive car design world.
VP: What were some of the more challenging aspects of designing the X-Class?
WC:The design development of the production version of X-Class started a few years ago. This was undertaken by the Vans and Smart (car) division of Daimler. Since I belong to a different department (Exterior Design/Production Cars – this includes all types of cars and SUVs under the MB brand), I was not involved at all in the design of [the] production version.
Earlier this year, the trucks, vans and Smart department, being short-handed at that time, asked our department to help design the showcar versions of the X-Class. Several designers from our department (including myself) were asked to submit design proposals.
Aside from the usual creative challenges involved in designing showcars, we were faced with 2 additional major challenges. One is the extremely short development phase. It normally takes 1-2 years to design and build a showcar from scratch. With this project, we were given just 8 months to design and build the X-Class concepts! The 2nd major challenge was being asked to design and build not one but 2 showcars which made the extremely tight schedule look even more ridiculous.
From a creative point of view, it wasn’t much of a problem to transition to designing pickups since we are used to designing SUVs in my department. Of course there are some functional aspects that make pickups unique which require different design thinking and approach.
Another challenge, as in all other car design endeavors, is the design competition. I competed intensely against 2 other designers (a German and a Korean). My design proposals for both showcars, in the end, were chosen to be developed and built into the actual showcars.
Any MB vehicle that will be shown to the public, whether production or concept, will have to pass through (and approved by) the different levels of hierarchy of Daimler AG. This means right up to the board of management and has to be approved by the Dr. Dieter Zetsche (Chairman of Daimler AG) himself. Each level will have their own criticism and demands for the car which the designer has to solve and execute in the best possible way. It definitely tested my resilience and resolve. There was a point in the project when I was deluged by the huge amount of seemingly insurmountable creative and other miscellaneous problems that I wished I was doing something else for a living. It’s nice to know in the end I was able to rise up to the numerous challenges that were thrown at me.
VP: And lastly, if Mercedes-Benz told you that you can design any car you want for them -any segment, any body type, sky is the limit- what would that vehicle be and what would it look like?
WC: First of all, I would go beyond designing a Mercedes. Don’t get me wrong, I have total respect and admiration for the brand and its products. But it’s very important that I’m given total freedom if I were to design my ‘perfect’ car. I have to start with a totally clean sheet of paper. I have to work in a dimension free of any constraints.
Here is the interesting part - Over the past 10 years, I’ve been doodling about this personal project of mine to design and build the most beautiful car ever. It’s an on-off project that I work on during my spare time. It has gathered pace this past year and has reached a level that I’m ready to show it to prospective customers or investors who might be interested in financing, manufacturing and/or owning one.
I won’t divulge any details about the car but I would gladly make a personal presentation to anybody interested in it.