Will one of the auto industry’s grand and elite experiments soon come to an end? After years struggling to make its ultra-exclusive Maybach brand more than just a costly asterisk on the auto industry sales charts, could Daimler AG be getting ready to call it quits in the rarified ultra-luxury market?
There certainly would be some good reasons to walk away, acknowledged Dr. Dieter Zetsche, Daimler’s affable CEO, during an exclusive interview with TheCarConnection.com. Last year, the world’s wealthiest motorists purchased just 146 Maybach vehicles, some of which can nudge over the $500,000 mark with the right level of customization. That number is barely a tenth of what the then-DaimlerChrysler AG originally projected for the brand, which was a revival of a once-legendary German luxury marque, but one which hadn’t seen production since before World War II.
Maybach, meanwhile, was the brainchild of Zetsche’s predecessors, both as CEO of Daimler and boss of Daimler’s flagship Mercedes-Benz brand. Zetsche has already had to oversee the dismantling of former CEO Juergen Schrempp’s personal cause celebre, the “merger of equals” between Daimler-Benz AG and Chrysler Corp.
So it came as little surprise when Zetsche told TheCarConnection.com that as of now, he has approved no plan to replace the aging Maybach line-up of products, notably the original 63 and 57. The marque does have a new variant, the Landaulet, but Daimler’s CEO is quick to forecast it won’t budge the needle on sales.
Yet before we write Maybach’s obituary, whether in German or English, Zetsche offers a somewhat upbeat take. “It’s likely we’ll not have a (positive) return on investment” for the brand, “but this does not matter,” he insisted, stressing that the automaker has proven it can compete with the likes of Rolls-Royce. (Indeed, another senior Daimler official, asking not to be quoted by name, noted that despite the huge price tag for Maybach products, the actual investment was minimal, as the 57 and 63 sedans were largely based on prior-generation S-Class engineering and components.)
Zetsche argues that the Maybach project has proven Mercedes could come up with a product that competes with the absolute pinnacle of the automotive world, Rolls-Royce.
All well and good, but that peak will wear down unless Mercedes is willing to keep the line-up fresh. And that means more than subtle tweaks to the original models. Is there something all new to come, we asked Zetsche. “We have not decided yet,” he candidly replied, adding that the decision will be made in the next two years or so whether to beef up the brand, or let Maybach once again sink into obscurity.
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