Daimler AG DAI.
XE -0.27% 's flagship Mercedes-Benz often gets the rap for being an "old man's car." More unusual is to hear it from the lips of Gorden Wagener, the luxury brand's youngest-ever design chief.
"The perception was, 'no question, you are the old guy in this game,'" the 45-year-old German said in an interview earlier this year, referring to the car maker's previous generations of poor-selling small cars. Across the entire brand, he said a sporty image was essential.
"In this society everyone wants to be young and successful, and so we have to be sporty," he said. "Definitely in our own way—but we have to find our own way."
Few at the German luxury auto maker are defining that path as much as Mr. Wagener. A once-competitive wakeboarder whose home away from Mercedes's Stuttgart headquarters is in southern California, Mr. Wagener is charged with rejuvenating Mercedes's design to help boost its lagging global sales and woo younger affluent drivers to the brand. Five years since he took the post, his strategy is being tested now as the car maker has been launching, in rapid succession, makeovers of much of its model lineup—the first to be restyled under Mr. Wagener's watch.