Gorden Wagener has spent a good amount of his coronavirus quarantine thinking about waffles.

Daimler’s head of design, who created such iconic cars as the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren and Vision Mercedes concepts, wanted to bake bread during his pandemic free time, but soon found the bread maker he wanted was out of stock. So he ordered a waffle iron from Williams-Sonoma instead, and the German and Germany-based designer has been perfecting his at-home recipe for the delightfully dimpled grid of syrup holders ever since.

That’s how he landed on the idea for a glove-box waffle catapult.

When I heard he’d become a waffle master, I asked whether he could do deliveries. “The car is easily smart enough to launch a waffle accurately—you could write smart messages on the waffle and then throw it!” Wagener suggested on a recent phone call. A paperboy tossing waffles instead of the morning news, he would do it from the new GLE Coupe.

Wagener, of course, spends the bulk of his workdays thinking about things rather more serious than breakfast, but the time at home has spurred him to think outside the traditional box in a lot of ways. While the pandemic is tanking global markets and has pushed the automotive industry to a standstill, Wagener has been exploring what Covid-19 means for the future of design.

“The pandemic will change our perception of how we experience safety and luxury in the future,” Wagener says, predicting that the two will become much more intimately intertwined. “This can be a challenging but an exciting time.”

The New Normal for Safety
Across the car world, designers remain among the relative few in the industry who can continue their daily work uninterrupted, more or less. While factory stalls everywhere from Volkswagen AG to General Motors Co. sent thousands of line workers home, the men and women who work to outline your car’s roof or orchestrate the feel of the lambswool carpets beneath your feet can gather virtually to push projects forward.

Conversations among their lot have long centered around the notions of safety and luxury—how they intersect and how they’re evolving. What’s different already during the time of coronavirus—nearly 50 days since most factories in Italy closed, and Day 38 of self-isolation for this journalist—is that new ideas about safety inside cars have emerged.

“The future more than ever will be about the freedom of going places safely—and these cars will be more than ever about their interior,” Felix Kilbertus, the head of exterior design for Rolls-Royce, said on a Zoom call on April 21. “An interior has always been a safe space—people will do all kinds of things in their car they won’t do on their own front lawn,” like hold business meetings, apply makeup, and, uh, pursue romance.

“The idea of the interior as a grand sanctuary has become very relevant,” he explained. “I believe it is a transformation that this current situation accelerates.”

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