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Filipino designs German luxury cars

Katherine Visconti

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Winifredo Camacho is recognized as a lead designer of the Benz E-class series

THE MAN. Designer Winifredo Camacho visits the Ayala Museum.

MANILA, Philippines – One of the top designers of the Mercedes-Benz is Filipino Winifredo “Wini” Camacho. 

Camacho is one of the leading design minds behind the German carmaker’s E-class, a family of executive-sized cars known for their elegant styling, durability and sound engineering. 

CONCEPT. Drawn for the E-class series, courtesy of Mercedes-Benz.

The exterior of the E-class sedan is Camacho’s handiwork and he is proud of being a part of it from beginning to end. During the DesignTalks lecture series at the Ayala Museum on Saturday, January 7, Camacho said, “It’s one of the projects I’ve worked on where I actually started from the initial design proportion model phase until the design phase to the full-size phase, until the class A surfacing — pretty much the whole process from start to finish.”

Explaining how he got into design and eventually landed a job at a leading car company, Camacho said that as a kid, he was fascinated with sketching, especially transportation vehicles.

ARTIST. Early sketches by Camacho, courtesy of Mercedes-Benz.

It was while working on a remote control car for a toy company in Hong Kong that he realized his passion for cars. “In Hong Kong I was amazed at what I saw,” said Camacho. “I fell in love with car design. It became more and more intense and I said, I have to do something about it.”

He knew he wanted to go to a design school and specialize in transportation but he also knew it would be expensive. “It was a huge risk. If I don’t make it, I have to start all over again. I had to use all my life savings so malaking (big) risk.”

Born and raised in the Philippines, Camacho said, “I was really intimidated with the work abroad and thought maybe I’m not good enough for this kind of thing.”

INDUSTRIAL DESIGN. Winifredo Camacho with rattan chairs he designed as a student at UST.

But he went for it and in 1995 started attending the Art Center College of Design in Switzerland, later transferring to its California campus. “It was a world of relentless handwork and there were no weekends,” he said. “It was like a military bootcamp disguised as a design world.” The atmosphere was one of constant competition among students but that prepared him for competitive design challenges in Mercedes-Benz. 

“Getting a job in the car design industry is always what students are hoping for but it’s very difficult because there are more graduates than jobs,” according to Camacho. Still he beat the odds.

“Of course it is easier for a German designer to get into a German company but it can also be an advantage if you have something special,” he added. 

Camacho thinks his edge comes from having lived in different countries, from the Philippines, to Hong Kong, to Switzerland and the United States. “Exposure to different parts of the world is a huge advantage. It broadened my horizons and I see myself as more open-minded than a designer that was in one place.”

Given his own experience, Camacho recommends that students study abroad. “It’s a lot of money but it will pay off in the end.”

Camacho, who now lives in Beijing, said he had no choice but to go abroad. “Unfortunately at the moment in the Philippines we don’t have a real [car] industry.” 

Losing more than wining

Designers face vigorous challenges transforming their cars from sketches into real ones in production lines. Camacho has had many designs turned into small model cars, only to have them shelved in the end.

SLEEK. Sketch by Winifredo Camacho. Courtesy of Mercedes-Benz.

Within Mercedez-Benz, designers from around the world submit proposals. Camacho explained that the design manager initially chooses among their 2D design sketches for the models that fit the future or current design philosophy. 

Model designs are reviewed weekly and criticized on a projector so large it is able to give a full-size rendering of the car. A handful are chosen and turned into quarter-scale models. It is not enough to satisfy the concerns of other designers alone as the board of directors has the final say. 

Of the small models, perhaps only three are transformed into full-size models. Cars are tested for a number of factors, including aerodynamics and sound. Since Mercedes-Benz is a luxury car, Camacho said even the noise of wind hitting the windows at high speeds has to be minimized. In the end, only one car is selected.

“With our design profession, it’s like a rollercoaster ride where you compete, you win, you lose. During my time at Mercedes, I’ve lost much more than I’ve won and for some designers it’s really hard to take this.”

After the losses he always sits down to sketch again. Immediately he finds himself getting lost in the work. At the end of the day, he said, “It’s a job. If you really like it, it’s easier to overcome the disappointments.” – Rappler.com

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