Mercedes-Benz knows a thing or two about building the ultimate automobile. As purveyors of the world's leading luxury saloon, the S-Class, and stewards of the noble name of Maybach, the last word in high-end, high speed executive travel short of a Gulf V, their designers, engineers, craftsmen and technicians have been responsible for ensuring the back seat experience of the world's most demanding people is nothing short of exceptional.
The new Viano Vision Diamond is a distinct departure from the traditional executive express. For a start, it's based on Mercedes-Benz's acclaimed Viano, a multifunctional platform that scales from delivery van through to spacious MPV. For the Vision Diamond, the design team started from scratch, transforming the Viano's ample passenger cabin into a tech-saturated, leather-lined mobile retreat. Kai Sieber, head of design at Mercedes-Benz Commercial Vehicles division, relished the challenge of creating a svelte, stylish and exceptionally sybaritic mode of personal transport.
From the minute you slide back the big passenger door, the Vision Diamond is designed to envelop you in a cosseting cloud of natural materials and high technology devices. Working closely with artists, craftsmen and brands like Bang & Olufsen, the interior is designed to soothe away the travails of being on the road, while maintaining high levels of connectivity - and entertainment - at all times. On top of this, Sieber's team has brought together a host of exquisitely detailed touches to enhance the look and feel of the vehicle.
In preparing this concept for the very specific needs of the Chinese market, surface decoration, symbolism and material quality and colour have not been overlooked, including eight 0.25 carat diamonds that have been carefully set into the passenger area side panels. Externally, the concept is finished in starkly contrasting black and white, while the rear compartment is finished in light porcelain coloured leather, the inverse of the black leather-lined driver area. The exterior transitions from black to white with a hair-thin line of gold paint, applied by Germany's master of automotive custom art using a brush made of Siberian squirrel hair - the kind of obscure detail that can't possibly be overlooked. The bodywork culminates in a chromed Mercedes grille, while the whole ensemble sits on 19-inch wheels.
Inside, Bang & Olufsen supply the Vision Diamond with its focal point, a 40 inch flat screen and 12-speaker, 1,320 watt sound system, which can be hooked up to an entertainment system or video conferencing. Highly configurable interior lighting sets the mood, controllable via a specially developed Diamond app, preloaded onto the iPads that slot into the front of the twin massage-enabled seats. The lighting design includes an ambient starry sky effect that scatters constellations above your head in milliseconds, while Mercedes' Magic Sky Control - as used on the SL and SLK roadsters - darkens the windows in an instant if more privacy is desired.
No-one has ever built a luxury concept vehicle without slipping in space for chilled champagne, and the Vision Diamond is no exception, with integral coolers for different bottle sizes, as well as silver champagne flutes in the console between the two king-sized, fully reclining loungers in the passenger compartment. Providing unrivalled personal space, the Vision Diamond is a foretaste of a new era in mobile luxury.
We caught up with Mercedes-Benz's Kai Seiber to find out what inspired the Vision Diamond and discover more about its rich features.
Which elements of Chinese culture were incorporated into the vehicle?
The overall colour theme is inspired by yin and yang, the Chinese philosophy which describes how seemingly contrary elements - here black and white - are interconnected and need each other to create an interesting whole. The eight diamonds set into the interior reference this traditionally lucky number.
How long has Mercedes been planning this vehicle?
About two years ago we asked ourselves how to redefine the high-end segment for vans. Our first claim was to create the 'S-Class among the Vans', which became reality in the form of the 'Viano Vision Pearl', shown at the IAA Frankfurt 2011 and the Geneva Motor Show 2012. Consequentially we created the 'Vision Diamond' as the 'Maybach' in the segment, for exhibition in Beijing.
Will there be another special edition Viano?
Let's say, we have still more than enough ideas...
What are the main pieces of technology in the passenger compartment?
The high-end B&O system, the specially designed 'BeoLiving Viano', transforms the passenger compartment into a movie theater or a video conference centre. The Magic Sky Control windows use liquid crystal in the glass to control their translucency, and we worked hard on our tailored apps so as to allow an iPhone 4 or iPad 2 to control everything.
What materials have been used, and how have they been treated?
Our focus was to create a well-tempered surrounding with fine semi-aniline leather for the seats and wall coverings. Elegant tone-in-tone stitching lines show how detailed our processes are. The overall impression of calm is highlighted by black anodized aluminium surfaces, while Tom Plate's discrete hand-painted pinstripes add the finishing touch - something usually only found in American hot rod culture.
What applications do you foresee for the Vision Diamond? How should it be used?
It's clearly a chauffeur-driven limousine, a business-jet on four wheels. Equally, it could be seen as a rolling entertainment centre or even a super-high-end shuttle.
Why the name Vision Diamond?
Pearl and diamond signify exclusivity and preciousness. With eight real diamonds in the interior, the vehicle and name are convincingly linked together.
Will you build this car?
For now it's a one off. But depending on the buyer feedback, I think a special edition might not be excluded.