The Mercedes-Benz range of AMG vehicles has always had a certain allure about them. Be it the exhilarating sound, styling or top-notch performance credentials, since the company’s inception in 1967, AMG has gone on to become one of the best known automotive performance brands in the world.
It hasn’t always been smooth sailing for AMG. The first few decades were hard fought in the world of motorsport and it wasn’t until 1995 that the then DaimlerChrysler partnership (parent company of Mercedes-Benz) bought a 51 percent stake in the business.
The influence of AMG cars on the whole Mercedes-Benz portfolio continued to become even more significant, and in 2005 one of the original founders, Hans-Werner Aufrecht (who lends the A to AMG), sold his remaining stake in the business to Daimler.
In 2012 AMG recorded its best year on record with sales up by nearly 40 per cent to around 20,000 units. The brand continues to lead the global sales race against the M department from BMW and the RS team at Audi. On its 50th anniversary in 2017, AMG plans to sell 30,000 vehicles with seven new models (and the A45 AMG) to be added by then.
Even though Australia is a relatively small car market with around one million new vehicle sales per year, it’s AMG’s sixth largest market and the biggest per capita. This year alone AMG sales have topped 1100 units in Australia, making it the best year on record.
Perhaps it’s our love of V8s, strong economy or just the need to have the absolute best. Whatever the reason for our love affair with AMGs may be, the German company responds in kind and keeps Australian consumers in mind for its research and development (such as our hot weather).
AMG produces everything from the supercar-killing SLS AMG to a C63 AMG (and is soon to release a more affordable A45 AMG) but still takes a very personal approach to its production facility. The company is well known for its “One man, One Engine” tag line, which may sound like a marketing gimmick, but is a rather accurate description of how AMG goes about manufacturing its powerplants by hand.
Last month CarAdvice had the opportunity to visit AMG’s headquarters in Affalterbach, Germany, and toured the engine building facility and the company’s in-house test centre. Although no cameras or electronic gear of any kind were allowed, we got a great sense of how the whole operation works.
AMG employs 63 engine mechanics (a number which ironically has no correlation to the 63 in the CL/CLS/E/S/SL/ML/G/C 63), who essentially work on their own, building engines along a well constructed and flowing assembly line. Each AMG mechanic that starts with the company has had at least 3.5 years of experience and is a graduated mechanic. They then undergo two months of extensive training followed by a strict final exam before they are allowed anywhere near an AMG engine. Many apply to work for AMG. Very few are selected.
There are no specified work shifts; the mechanics can essentially show up at any time and begin work but they are expected to have an average output of about three engines per day. They also don’t share responsibility with others, so one mechanic takes control of producing and testing one engine from beginning to end. This is to ensure the highest quality of work and a sense of ownership for the mechanic.
The company currently mass-produces four engines (if you can call building engines by hand mass production). The M152 5.5-litre naturally aspirated V8 which is found in the SLK55 AMG, the M156 6.2L V8 which the company is currently best known for in its C 63 AMG and many previous AMG models which have recently migrated to the more powerful and fuel efficient M157 5.5-litre bi-turbo V8. The AMG models with a 65 at the end of their designation, such as the SL65 and G65 have a 6.0-litre V12 BiTurbo.
Next year a 2.0-litre turbocharged engine for the A45 AMG will join the lineup but due to the expected high demand for that particular engine, it’s being built off-site by AMG trained mechanics. On the odd occasion AMG also builds a 7.3-litre V12, which powers the Pagani Zonda and the extinct SL73 AMG (never offered in Australia).
The engine facility is divided into two levels, with mechanics on the ground floor taking care of the V8s and the more senior staff working upstairs handcrafting V12 engined. From an outsider’s perspective, the engine facility is incredibly clean. There’s nothing on the floor that would suggest this is an automotive factory, it’s also very German in its efficiency.
Each engine component is tagged and scanned before being manually installed. AMG keeps these records for at least 30 years and can trace almost every single part in any engine to a specific car. The V8 engines take around 2.5-3 hours to build while the V12 consumes around 4.5 hours.
The testing conducted with each engine is also beyond the scope of any engine facility we’ve visited (apart from Bugatti’s factory in Molsheim, France) and 100 per cent of AMG engines are cold tested and a helium-test is conducted to check for leaks. One in every 20 engines is hot tested and if there’s even the slightest abnormality, the entire batch for the day are then also hot tested.
AMG mechanics, which get their name put on each engine they build, also get the opportunity to meet AMG owners as part of a ‘meet your mechanic’ initiative that the company has started. In fact, we were told that numerous Australian AMG owners have made the trek to visit the facility and meet the man or woman responsible for their engine.
In a way, this entire approach to manufacturing is so far detached from the modern ideals of mass-production that it’s amazing it has remained so financially viable.
Apart from the engine facility, which needs to be seen by any and all car enthusiasts that have even a slight interest in engineering, AMG also offers a very thorough customization program.
Much like those offered by many supercar manufacturers, AMG owners could come to the facility and customise anything that can be modified. But unlike the likes of Ferrari and Aston Martin, AMG doesn’t have a ‘taste-police’ that can overrule a customer order. The company will customise whatever the customer is willing to pay for.
During our brief visit we saw a G65 AMG in bright red with a matching interior, we saw numerous C63 AMGs in all sorts of colours that you’d either instantly love or hate. Interestingly, AMG will also customise its cars after they’ve been sold. So if you love your AMG but what to change something about it after purchase, you can bring it back and have it done at the factory.
Although 20,000 sales a year is hardly a large number for an automotive company, nearly 300,000 Mercedes-Benz vehicles also get some sort of AMG gear in them per year. Be it the wheels, sports kit or interior trim, AMG’s halo effect is a very positive clout on the whole Mercedes-Benz brand.
Nevertheless, AMG insists that it’s not a tuning company, but an original OEM company that produces its own cars. Having seen the extensive work that goes into producing an AMG vehicle, it’s hard to argue with that.