E in German-Swabian accent is wrong in Yokohama Platz, here in the easternmost Mercedes design studio, either Japanese or English is spoken, because only a fraction of the 15 employees come from Germany. Most of them come from Japan or Korea.
It was the long-time Mercedes design boss Bruno Sacco who recognized in 1993 that the pulse of the times had to be taken in Asia too, because in the realm of the rising sun emerged early an inclination towards German prestige objects. But the Japanese have their own requirements when it comes to the design of interiors and the use of materials, which is why Mercedes deliberately included these wishes in its development work. 'The Japanese have a strong inner creativity, which you have to encourage consciously, because they are very careful when it comes to expressing your own ideas', says Advanced Design Director Steffen Köhl, describing the dealings with the traditional country.
Compared to the typical Japanese narrowness, it is almost generous here: the studio is arranged on two floors, has a gallery and a modern video conference room and an inner courtyard, where eleven Mercedes S-Classes can park with a little effort. The computers on which the latest designs are created are, however, unusually close by German standards. The employees are separated by just an elbow length.
The starting point for many great design careers
Yokohama is a design studio that is now managed by Holger Hutzenlaub and was the starting point for many great design careers in the past : The current head of Porsche design and former Mercedes SLK designer Michael Mauer belongs to this group, for example. And the list of cars that came from this chamber of inspiration is also impressive: The influence on the current S-Class was just as great as on the Maybach and even the first concept car from the Smart was co-developed here.
Old and new collide
'In Japan we find the highest technology standards, but at the same time society is still deeply rooted in tradition,' says studio boss Hutzenlaub, explaining the approach. 'And the transport system is one of the best in the world.' There is currently a trend from Japan to make everything a little smaller than before: Small robots, tiny audio systems, small houses and miniature K-Cars describe where the journey could go worldwide. 'We take our role in developing new mobility very seriously,' is how Hutzenlaub defines his team's claim. The pressure from this region is shown by the following figures: Asia has 4.5 billion inhabitants, which corresponds to 60.5 percent of the world population - and the trend is rising. Nevertheless, the small studio has to fight for its existence: If China continues to develop so splendidly as a car market, it could be that the studio that is currently being prepared in Beijing will one day overtake the Japanese competition. In this respect, the studio in Yokohama should want to draw attention to itself with even better work in the near future.