Maybach at the crossroads (2007)

Published: 20 March 2007

Maybach: hit or flop?

Maybach is going back to the drawing board to fix sluggish sales. The true sales figures for the Maybach brand have over the past 18 months become one of the best-kept corporate secrets at DaimlerChrysler. On the internet, there are currently 60 new and used cars being advertised across Europe – among them a barely run-in ’06 model with 5000 miles on the clock offered at a 55 percent discount. According to trade estimates, last year’s production totalled a rather pathetic 280 units. Had the Maybach adventure not been quietly absorbed by the overall balance sheet of the Mercedes Car Group when the marque was launched, annual losses would by now be little short of frightening. But as things stand, chairman Dieter Zetsche can safely maintain that ‘every Maybach sold is earning money.’ At this disappointing level, however, it seems almost impossible to justify any further investments. ‘I disagree,’ says Dr Z. ‘On the contrary: I would like to confirm that there will be a new Maybach.’ So, as you read this, engineers are plotting a new raft of Maybach models.

So what’s Maybach going to do next?

With the 57/62 pegged at only 175 units per year by 2010, Maybach is light years behind Rolls-Royce (3000 cars by then) and Bentley (10,000 cars in three years’ time). Despite this dramatic lack of demand, DC’s hardcore brand specialists will do what they can to nurse the fickle flame. One senior Maybach official told CAR Online: ‘The Excelero show car did more for us than all the tweaks to the 57/62 series combined. It’s an open secret that the four-door Ocean Drive convertible started life as a Maybach, but then we got cold feet and turned it into a Merc. In the not too distant past, we presented to our management a couple of promising concepts, among them a pillarless four-seater luxury coupe with rear suicide doors. But at the moment, most of our work is unfortunately undercover – you just can’t fire thousands at Chrysler and at the same time spend millions on a new Maybach.’ And he confirmed that the look of the Maybach is one of its biggest problems. ‘Although it took a while to sink in, everyone involved knows now that it’s not the brand which is at fault. It’s the current product in general and the design in particular.’

Will there be further versions of the current cars?

Before the 57/62 bites the dust, it will almost certainly spawn an even more expensive and luxurious landaulet version. This bespoke model was originally developed for a rich Swiss hotelier who backed out at the eleventh hour, leaving behind plenty of unpaid bills and an almost finished vehicle. Rather than only building a handful of cars, DC is now looking at a batch of 25 to 50 units that would be made to special order between 2008 and 2011. Featuring a power-operated rear fabric top, this crowd-stopper is said to combine the open-air feel of a convertible with the generous packaging of a limo. Another sleeper which may be resurrected by mid-year is a Maybach editon of the GL luxury SUV (above). Limited to no more than 1500 cars in total, this vehicle would only be sold in the US, Asia and the Middle East. The conversion boasts a Maybach grille, a revised rear end with new lights and tailgate, more brightwork, special bumpers, wider wheels and its own choice of colour and trim. Inside, there are singing-and-dancing first-class rear sleeper seats like in the 57/62, plus top-grade leather, more precious wood and all the ICE novelties you could think of. Put together in Vance, Tuscaloosa, alongside the M- and R-class, the Maybach GL is deemed to be the brand’s first real money-maker – cheap to build, expensive to buy.

What about normal saloons?

With Rolls-Royce preparing its New Generation Sedan and with the Bentley Continental series going from strength to strength, almost everyone within Mercedes agrees that there is nothing Maybach needs more badly than a striking mid-size model priced in the $225 to $275K bracket. But it is equally clear that the last thing the brand needs is a me-too car. ‘Soon, we’ll have two new sedans competing in this small segment,’ acknowledges our friend from product planning. ‘In addition, Bentley is already offering a drop-top and a traditional coupe, so we don’t want to clash with these derivatives either. At the same time, Mercedes is moving further upscale with premium products like the S65 AMG and the proposed four-seater CL cabriolet. Considering these implications, Maybach’s best bet is a stylish and powerful four-door, four-seater coupé – kind of a bigger CLS for the very rich.’

A Maybach CLS-alike? Whatever next?

All future Maybachs will be powered exclusively by a specially tuned, ultra-torquey and prestigeous 12-cylinder engine, and project C241 is for packaging and cost reasons based on the long-wheelbase S-class. The exterior and interior design are new – and the sleek bodystyle in particular is said to be much more convincing than the brand´s first effort. The new Maybach will usher in a remarkable new lighting concept which can switch between ornamental and aggressive, and which introduces a soft-glow light film to accentuate certain body contours. Other goodies are a variable-tint sky-roof, a new active seat concept and a multi-mode instrument panel which prioritises its display according to the actual driving conditions. And this CLS-style luxury saloon will offer stonking performance, to boot. The engineers favour the latest direct-injection 5.5-litre V12, codenamed M275 and producing up to 600bhp and 740lb ft of torque.

By Georg Kacher

European editor, secrets uncoverer, futurist, first man behind any wheel