DETROIT - DaimlerChrysler's forthcoming Maybach will be more than twice the price of a Mercedes-Benz V-12 S class when it is launched in 2002.
DaimlerChrysler's management board has approved the car's exterior styling. Its interior styling is expected to be completed in the next few weeks. Only the design of the radiator grille has to be decided.
'The D/C management always wanted the car to bear the three-pointed star, since the Maybach is considered a top-of-the-line Mercedes-Benz model,' said Leon Hustinx, senior manager of marketing and sales for project Maybach. 'But the grille itself will remind people of the original Maybach models' of the 1920s and 1930s.
In Germany, the standard-wheelbase Maybach will be priced between 500,000 and 550,000 German marks (about $256,000 and $284,000 at current exchange rates), plus value-added tax. The long-wheelbase version will cost an extra $51,000.
'We plan to build 1,500 Maybachs a year, and we expect the majority will be long-wheelbase versions,' said Hustinx. 'For that money, it must be better than a Rolls-Royce.'
By comparison, an entry-level S class costs about $51,000 in Germany. The V-12-engined S class will retail for about $110,000.
The car is named after German auto designer Wilhelm Maybach, who developed the first automobiles to bear the Mercedes name in 1900-01. Cars with the Maybach name were manufactured from 1922 to 1939.
The Maybach was first seen as a concept study at the 1997 Tokyo auto show. When it goes on sale, the car will feature a more refined and sleeker front end, with a different headlamp treatment.
'The front will look more harmonious, with lower lamps,' Hustinx said. 'The car will also have more interior refinement.'
The Maybach will be equipped with the new 5.5-liter, twin-turbo, V-12 engine that Mercedes-Benz has under development. That engine also will be used in top-of-the-range versions of the S class in 2003.
The Maybach will be available in two wheelbase lengths, one for the owner-driver and a longer one for chauffeur-driven use.
Maybach marketing activities already have begun. Customer clinics have been organized; one included a panel of chauffeurs.
'We are seeking direct contact with potential customers to find out their needs during this final development stage,' Hustinx said.
According to the market research, potential Maybach buyers do not want the car to be full of complicated technology. Their top priorities are luxury, comfort, easy-to-operate controls and quality materials.
Hustinx is coordinating marketing activities from the so-called Maybach project house in Sindelfingen, Germany. In addition to customer clinics, he has organized special events for clients.
'We have invited potential buyers to special occasions such as art auctions and yachting events,' Hustinx said.
DaimlerChrysler plans to publish a special book about the heritage of the Maybach. It has also bought a 1932 Maybach V-12 Zeppelin to promote the brand's historic values.
Despite interest from owners of other super-luxury marques such as Rolls-Royce, Hustinx said, he expects 70 to 80 percent of all Maybachs will be sold to current Mercedes-Benz owners who want more than a top-level S class.