Maybach knows exactly how it feels to be the second horse in a one-horse race. It’s a kind of ‘trying too hard’, ‘me too’ Rolls-Royce Phantom that declines to look elegant despite being expensively coiffed, and which has failed to live up to its masters’ sales expectations here and right around the world.
Above: South Korean-styled S-Class?
A deficit of historical cachet, at least outside Germany, has led to nouveaux riche upstart rappers like Jay-Z, Kayne West and The Birdman becoming the brand’s de facto ambassadors. (This influx of young blood in the segment is unlikely to rattle BMW-owned Rolls-Royce, which routinely sees Elizabeth Regina emerging for jaunts from Buckingham Palace in its finely crafted product…)
Above: Rapper Birdman (estimated net worth US$100 million) just dropped US$8 million on the one-off Maybach Exelero and thus became a de facto brand ambassador. Mr Birdman plans to paint the Excelero red...
According to the Wall Street Journal, even parent company, Daimler, has started admitting the Maybach marque has faltered since the get-go, and is in urgent need of a strategic re-work – not to mention different hair and makeup – if it is to succeed.
Above: Rolls-Royce tends to appeal to more conservative, established money
The luxury Maybach nameplate was resurrected back in early 2004, against then-conservative sales projections of 1000 units annually. It never happened. Last year, global sales were fewer than 200 units. Here in Australia, Maybach sold – wait for it – zero units last year, and is well on track to back up for a repeat performance this year.
Above: All of Maybach's Australian customers for 2010 (and 2011 to July) would fit in this picture - and both seats would still remain vacant
In fact, since the vehicle’s launch Down Under seven years ago, just 13 Maybachs have been sold in Australia. The problem is, of course, Rolls-Royce – which has sold an incredible 109 of its million-dollar-plus cars here in the same period.
Above: Elegance quiz - the suicide-doored Roller Phantom Coupe (above) or the Maybach (below)?
In 2007 – another year of zero Australian sales for Maybach – only 401 Maybach cars were sold globally, compared with 1010 Rolls-Royce Phantoms. The same year saw just 156 Maybach sales in the USA (I’m guessing mostly in Miami and Beverley Hills) and a consequential purge on US Maybach dealers, during which one in three were axed, from 72 to 48 in total. We’ll never know which group felt the most cheated by the cull; the 24 who were punted, or the extant 48…
Former Mercedes-Benz Australia boss Ernst Lieb, who went on to become CEO of M-B in North America, is on the record stating global recognition of the Maybach name is low, compared with both the S-Class Benz (with which the Maybach shares its platform) and Rolls-Royce. Lieb is quoted as saying, incredibly: “[Rolls-Royce] is positioned between an S-Class and a Maybach. The Maybach, when you drive it, is different. It cannot be compared.” Meanwhile, back on Earth...
Above: Not perhaps the Maybach's most flattering pose
Rolls-Royce owners would in all probability repudiate Mr Lieb’s position, but he is, of course, correct – to an extent. The Roller is peerless, and the Drophead Coupe in particular is impossibly elegant, with unmatched road presence. And then there are the – love it – suicide doors. (Rolls-Royce, however, would never use that word. In Rolls-speak they are 'coach' doors.) The Maybach, however, is proof that even a bottomless pit of money doesn’t necessarily beget good taste. It’s gauche, over-cooked and (especially from the front) looks like an S-Class with a bad Ssangyong styling makeover. In marketing-speak you’d probably also say it’s insufficiently differentiated from the S-Class that spawned it. As Mr Lieb alleges, the two certainly cannot be compared to one another.
In 2010, in an effort to boost its on-the-nose sales, Daimler added new wheels, paint and grille – among other tweaks – to the Maybach. Beauty is in the eye of … and all that … but to many the visual result was an even tackier ‘South Korean’ S-Class. Its build quality remained second to none, but some of the new Maybach bling blew former definitions of ‘excess’ right out of every known arena.
Above: $5000 perfume dispenser anyone? With your own custom fragrance?
The truly megalomaniacal could now have the privacy screen embossed with their own name (or, unlikely, someone else’s). Swaroski crystal inserts were offered, plus WiFi, a 19-inch hi-res TV and – wait for it – a perfume dispenser. For an extra fee, naturally, your local Maybach retailer would even arrange the formulation of your own bespoke fragrance by respected pong merchants, Givaudan. The perfume dispenser was a mere $5k; the custom smell, extra.
Above: Zeppelin variant offers optional champagne fridge and two solid 925 Sterling silver flutes…
Above: In case you forget, 'Zeppelin' is also printed inside, on the centre stack
Earlier on, at the unveiling of the Maybach Zeppelin (so named after the V12 engines that powered the famous German dirigibles) Daimler even developed a custom method of trimming the interiors in stone. (In case leather, wood, metal and carbon fibre lacked appeal.) This is possibly approximately as impractical as the art deco design of the Empire State Building, which was originally designed as a terminal for Zeppelins...
The Maybach's stone-facing method involved sticking wafer-thin sheets of Star Galaxy granite to an adhesive film and essentially pulverising it (with extreme uniformity) between rollers, so it could then be formed into any complex shape. Be honest: You’ve always wanted a car with granite benchtops. We all have.
Above: You even have the option of choosing your own cow for upholstery. Correction: cows. From your favourite herd. Or, let's be honest, your least favourite
You have to remember that Maybach owners are already given the opportunity to trim the interior in leather made from their own herd of prized cows (or, presumably, other fauna like zebra, antelope, wildebeest or even hyena) or trim appropriate surfaces in wood from a tree of ‘special significance’ felled and milled on one of their many property holdings.
The panoramic glass roof is even electrochromic on some Maybachs – the flick of a switch effectively turning the vista above on or off by virtue of a current passed through the glass overhead.
Above: Landaulet variant is notionally the most expensive off-the-rack Maybach
And then there’s the most expensive, tackiest Maybach ever offered: the Maybach Landaulet, at US$1.37 million thanks very much, which can’t decide if it’s a convertible or not – but if it is, the roof comes off only for the owners, not the chauffer. The Landaulet struggles to put all four wheels in the same postcode at any particular time.
Above: Some interpersonal exchanges are best facilitated behind bulletproof glass and Kevlar
If you have enemies, armoured versions of the Maybach are also available – typically popular (if that’s the right word) with heads of state, Mexican and Russian businessmen, and successful criminals.
For all of its customisation potential, however, the Maybach remains in Rolls-Royce’s shadow. It’s an S-Class with the Joan Rivers look, at twice the price, trying too hard not to acknowledge the botoxed elephant in the room.
Above: There are similarities. Admit it
Rolls-Royce, and even Volkswagen-owned Bentley, have preserved their heritage in part by virtue of long-held styling cues (despite BMW and Volkswagen DNA, respectively, just beneath the skin) and also by maintaining their production in the storied factories at Goodwood (Rolls-Royce) and Crewe (Bentley).
Adding insult to injury, today’s Maybach is not spawned at the brand’s traditional home in Lake Constance in southern Germany, but instead somewhat insensitively bolted together alongside the Mercedes-Benz S-Class line in Sindelfingen.
Above: Best-looking Maybach ever - the Exelero, a one-off built for Fulda Tires for their testing program. Now owned by the rapper 'Birdman' (above), and destined for a bright red re-paint
Maybach is crying out for a new business model. But what’s the fix? At this stage we can only speculate. Daimler might jump into bed with Aston Martin, the better to learn a thing or three about low-volume vehicle manufacturing. (This pair has collaborated before, with the Aston Martin Lagonda Crossover concept built on a GL-Class platform.) Or Daimler might decide to move Maybach inside the Mercedes-Benz fold, to slot in at the top of the tree above the S-Class. Maybach could then represent the pinnacle of luxuriousness under the three-pointed star, the way AMG represents peak performance for the brand. If it does that, it could at least boost brand awareness through the leverage of the three-pointed star.
Both options would still require much better differentiation between today’s Maybach and S-Class.
Above: Nice seats; legroom well beyond 'sufficient' - but not nearly enough differentiation back to S-Class
Daimler could, of course, kill the Maybach brand stone dead and then strive to expel the failed experiment from the annals of history. The Wall Street Journal speculates that this probably won’t happen. Daimler is eyeing China, inside which some automotive economists predict Maybach sales could double over the next few years (admittedly off a low base of just 29 last year). It’s the place with real growth potential, where historical pedigree carries less cachet than perhaps elsewhere in mature markets.
(Sales will, in all probability, double in Australia this year, too…)
Above: What multimillionaire rappers do in their free time: Anything they want
Until then, it’s therapeutic and amusing to see Jay-Z and Kayne West take to a Maybach with an angle grinder and gas axe in the film clip 'Otis' – for charity. This big question is: Did their handiwork make it better, or worse? Have they hurt or improved its resale value?
Speaking of which, Redbook says (subject to finding one) today in Australia you can pick up a three-year-old Maybach 62 240 in average nick with 30,000-55,000km on the clock for a 'mere' $490k, ballpark. New, it sold for $1.15 million. Let's see: in the approximate 1000 days since it was first bought, it has lost about $650,000 to depreciation. That's $600 a day, ish, just to the black dog of depreciation. Another way of looking at this is that the lost value over that time is more or less the cost of one Rolls-Royce Ghost. The term 'exsanguination' comes to mind.
A three-year-old Rolls Royce Phantom 1S68 fares somewhat better: it's down from $1.1 million new to $650k (ish) today.
Above: Leave it to rappers to build the world's most bespoke Maybach. Better or worse than the factory job?
What do you think Daimler should do with Maybach? Can you see any reason to buy one over a Roller?