CAR interviews AMG’s departing boss, Volker Mornhinweg

Published: 01 April 2010

Volker Mornhinweg has single-handedly transformed AMG, turning the in-house tuner into a fully fledged and independent supercar manufacturer. During his five-year watch he built up an outstanding team of engineers and designers, and his enthusiasm for fast and dynamic cars was as contagious as it was never-ending.

In April he will leave AMG and take on the new role of overseeing Mercedes’ van operations – a vital, but very different role. And he left on a high. This week he was in Mexico driving along the route of the hallowed Carrera Panamericana in the SLS – his spiritual successor to the 300SL Gullwing that won this epic road race in 1952. We caught up with him at the coastal town of Huatulco, for his last interview as boss of AMG.

The CAR interview, with AMG boss Volker Mornhinweg

Did you know when you went to AMG that you would have a fixed term there?

No, there was no time frame on my arrival – it was more how long I wanted to stay there. My previous role was developing management progression in the company, and with 15 years to go before retirement I knew when I started at AMG in 2005 that I would not retire there.

How do you feel about leaving?

We have a saying in Germany – one eye is laughing while the other is crying. I built up a fine team at AMG that developed and produced a great range of cars during my time there. It gave me a great insight into team-building and getting the best out of people. The company is running well and is very successful. I will be moving to a much bigger part of the company. The van business is worth £9bn a year and employs 15,000 people – that’s fifteen times the number of people I had at AMG.

Did you want to leave or were you asked to leave?

I was asked but I didn’t want to leave until the SLS was launched and on sale. That’s now done, so now is the perfect time to leave. But I will really miss the cars…

What was the personal highpoint of your time at AMG?

The huge step forward we took at AMG as a team. I took on new people, developed them into a great team that was as motivated and enthusiastic as I was, and we went on to build a great car. The SLS is the by-product of the people. Without the people, there is no car. It’s simple.

How much of AMG’s transformation was planned before you arrived and how much was down to you?

When I arrived we drew up a five-year plan that covered every single aspect of the company’s development. AMG became an independent company so I was responsible for its financial performance too – we had to pay for everything ourselves. I planned this strategy with my team.

And did your plan come to fruition?

The plan worked down to the last minute detail. It was an amazing time. But my team did it – I lead, they executed.

>> Click ‘Next’ below to read about Volker Mornhinweg’s plans for the next 15 years at AMG

What’s lies ahead for AMG, now that you’re going?

And we have put together a clear plan for the next 15 years. It’s as detailed and as accurate a plan as we made when I first arrived. The team knows what needs to be done – they just need to do it. That makes leaving a great deal easier for me.

We know about the electric SLS – will hybrids and alternative power sources play a key role in AMG’s future?

Soon, everyone will have hybrid tech. Those that don’t will not succeed. AMG will differentiate itself by taking an even bigger step than everyone expects by going fully electric – in a supercar, remember, not in a family car. I drove the electric SLS just before Christmas and it is unbelievable. The performance, the dynamism – it’s amazing. Our electric cars, like our petrol cars, will be proper AMG cars on both emotional and performance levels. But you will also see some very exciting combustion-engine technology from us over the next decade. The petrol engine is a long way from dead, let me tell you.

What’s the idea behind the SLS GT3?

It’s what our customers want, in a nutshell. It means AMG is going racing again and completes a 360-deg link with the road car. In creating this car, we are creating a template, a blueprint for future versions of the SLS – we are showing what we can do with less weight, greater performance and sharper focus. It’s the best tool we could have in our toolbox, if that makes sense.

We know a roadster version of the SLS is coming – when will we see a complete family of road-going AMG cars (as opposed to Mercedes-based AMG models)?

With the SLS we looked for a market segment where we were not represented. When it comes to expanding the AMG range we will have to look very carefully at the existing Mercedes line-up and ensure we don’t overlap. If we did a smaller model it might step on the toes of the SLK, for example. And we don’t have a heritage of a mid-engined supercar. So I think you will see a range of cars based around the SLS. And we have some great cars lined up. You won’t be disappointed.

Was the SLS always planned as the spiritual successor to the original 300SL Gullwing?

No! It was designed as a roadster first. We engineered it to be stiff enough without a roof because we were planning a roadster version of the car. Then I was looking at a model of the Gullwing and noticed how similar the cars were in mechanical layout and how far back the driver sat. So we tried a few different designs and it just worked as a Gullwing. It was luck, good fortune and coincidence all in one. Amazing.

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