HARALD HAMPRECHT

Why Wilhelm Maybach would turn over in his grave

Harald Hamprecht is Editor-in-Chief at Automotive News EuropeHarald Hamprecht is Editor-in-Chief at Automotive News Europe
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Wilhelm Maybach would turn over in his grave if he knew that killing the super-luxury brand that carries his name is one of the options Daimler is considering.

Mr. Maybach (1846 to 1929) was an engine designer who served as technical director at Daimler Motoren Gesellschaft. He teamed with Gottlieb Daimler on a number of crucial advancements.

Maybach’s name is strongly linked to Daimler.

Can killing the brand really be an option? Would the company risk damaging the image of the Mercedes Benz Cars group, which includes Maybach, Mercedes-Benz and Smart?

It seems like a particularly bad idea to do this during a year when the company is celebrating its 125th anniversary and is predicting record profits.

Potential to tap

I would not write off the billion-plus euros already invested in Maybach since its creation in 2002.

Why? Because there is potential to exploit in the super-luxury segment. Just look at Rolls-Royce. By expanding its lineup, the BMW subsidiary boosted sales 171 percent last year to a record 2,711 cars.

Meanwhile, Maybach only sold 157 units of its lone model.

Where did Daimler go wrong with Maybach?

First of all, it should not have based the first-generation Maybach on an old-generation Mercedes S class.

Secondly, a decision about Maybach’s future should have been made five years ago.

Thirdly, it should have matched Rolls-Royce and launched a model like the smaller, less expensive Ghost (also known as the Baby Rolls). Skeptics in Stuttgart decided not to invest in a small Maybach because they feared it would steal sales from the long-wheelbase version of the S class. That is a legitimate concern given that the Maybach is too similar to the longer S class.

By the way, it should be pointed out that Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche should not be blamed for the Maybach mess. He inherited this problem from his predecessor, Juergen Schrempp, in 2006, and he had bigger problems to tackle first.

Find a partner

A better solution for Maybach – if the price is right – would be to cooperate on a new-generation model with Aston Martin. Company insiders say Dieter Zetsche is a big fan of this option and has met several times with Aston Martin CEO Ulrich Bez to discuss options.

To me it seems like stand-alone Aston Martin needs Daimler more urgently than vice versa. It would be a challenge for Aston Martin to ensure the same production quality as Mercedes. To maintain control over development and production, Daimler should take a financial share in Aston Martin.

Aston Martin would benefit from such a deal because it has unused capacities for research and development, it would probably appreciate a new revenue stream – and it could use a strong new partner for engines and transmissions. Also, Uli Bez would probably prefer cooperating with Mercedes and Smart on a second-generation Cygnet minicar rather than just modifying another Toyota iQ.

Aston Martin is working on four Maybach concept cars based on the next-generation S-class architecture, according to Daimler sources. This could result in a whole new family of Maybach models. One of the concepts is supposed to be displayed at the Frankfurt auto show in September.

Third option

If Daimler can’t close a deal with Aston Martin, a third option – which also makes sense – would be turn Maybach in a subbrand reserved for top-of-the-line versions of the Mercedes S-, GL- and CL-class vehicles.

In a nutshell, it is no surprise that that Dr. Z delayed the decision on Maybach’s future by another month. He knows that each choice could result in some uncomfortable consequences.

When the Daimler supervisory board meets July 27 hopefully their vote will allow Wilhelm Maybach to rest in peace knowing his huge contributions will continue to be honored by keeping his family name alive on the company's future products.

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