German car brands are largely turning out cars that don’t look German, particularly Mercedes-Benz, if you ask widely renowned car designer J Mays, and they really need a course correction.

Mays – who penned the VW New Beetle and the 2005 Ford Mustang, and is responsible for the design of several current Ford models, having worked in Ford’s styling studios for 16 years before retiring three years ago – let loose on several automakers in a recent interview with Automotive News.

“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, now 63, said in the interview, giving a thumbs-up to British automakers for building cars that look British, but putting down German manufacturers for lacking “cultural relevance.”

Porsche, the one exception to his criticisms, is the only German brand that still makes cars that look Teutonic, he opined; to his eyes, though, both Audi and BMW could use improvement. He says he’s least impressed by Mercedes-Benz, who need “a quieter design language” and more continuity between models and generations.

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

Last month a BMW executive similarly jumped on Benz’s new X-Class pickup truck. But Mays, who worked for Audi for 14 years before leaving in the early 1990s, also had some good things to say, particularly of Hyundai and Kia, brands recently restyled by one-time Audi designer Peter Schreyer.

“Roll back the clock […] and you would have said the South Koreans will never be able to design a car,” he said. “Today they’re designing some of the best cars in the world.”

Hyundai sales have indeed seen an uptick post-Schreyer, but Mercedes-Benz’s record sales and top positions on several markets’ luxury sales boards stand in the face of Mays’ criticism. Mays now runs a design consultation firm and frequently works with Disney and Pixar on cars in their films.

(Automotive News via TTAC)