Ford Retiree J Mays Says German Cars Don’t Look German, Reserves Particular Criticism For One Automaker

E-Class, 5 Series, A6, Panamera - Images: BMW, Audi, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche“I think the British do a pretty good job — they seem to produce cars that look British,” Ford Motor Company’s retired design chief J Mays says.

Given that Minis essentially look the same as they’ve always looked, Mays makes a good case.

But Mays tells Automotive News he’s “a big stickler for cultural relevance.” And while the man whose influence can still be seen across much of the Ford lineup — he retired three years ago — credits the Brits for bringing culture to car design, he gives no such credit to the Germans.

“If you’re going to go to work in Italy, France, or Germany, you really want to make sure the brand represents the mindset of the culture it comes from,” Mays says. In Germany, Mays makes clear, Porsche is the lone exception, the one German automaker that builds German cars that look German.

Audi and BMW? Needs improvement.


“I could not tell you what Mercedes is doing,” Mays says, “but it’s not German.”

It’s not a compliment. J Mays, who says he left Audi in 1994 because he felt as though the next few generations of Audi products already had their design largely cemented, now says Mercedes-Benz needs “a quieter design language” and more continuity between generations and throughout its lineup.Mercedes-AMG GLC 43 - Image: Mercedes-BenzValid or not, Mays’ criticism of Mercedes-Benz design is not matched by degradation in Mercedes-Benz’s global appeal. Mercedes-Benz reported record sales of nearly 2.1 million units in 2016, besting BMW by some 81,000 units over the course of the calendar year. Mercedes-Benz outsold BMW last year for the first time since 2005 and topped premium brand leaderboards in key markets such as Germany and the United States.

Consumers and designers, of course, are often at odds. What Mays sees as distinctly un-German may, in the eyes of American luxury car buyers, be perceived as very much in keeping with their expectations for a Mercedes-Benz. The staid conservatism is long gone, naturally, and even the hood-topping ornament is fast losing its influence. But it’s difficult to see any lack of cohesion between the C-Class, E-Class, and S-Class, Mercedes-Benz’s three core sedans that essentially appear to be Benz sedan design copies in S, M, and L. (And XL.)

Mays isn’t exclusively critical. Due to Peter Schreyer’s influence, Mays says Hyundai and Kia are “designing some of the best cars in the world.” Nor is Mays the only outside critic of Mercedes-Benz. Last month, BMW executive Henrik von Kuenheim ripped the Mercedes-Benz X-Class to shreds.

[Images: BMW, Audi, Daimler AG, Porsche]

Timothy Cain is a contributing analyst at The Truth About Cars and and the founder and former editor of Follow on Twitter @timcaincars and Instagram.