Maybach: Mercedes' Mistake

Creating a prestige brand for Mercedes-Benz placed a fake jewel in its crown. Maybach was ill-advised and it is no use blaming its failure on 2008 And All That. It was a vanity project invented when BMW and Volkswagen outflanked Dainler-Benz AG in 1994.
Mercedes-Benz had made a bid to supply engine technology to Rolls-Royce, strapped for cash to replace its old V8. The proposals were well received but BMW enjoyed backing from Rolls-Royce’s owner, Vickers, in view of a joint aero engine project. By the end of the year Rolls-Royce’s board was in bed with BMW.

More bordello than boudoir, interiors were tasteless.
Autocar asked Vickers chairman Sir Colin Chandler: “Why select BMW ahead of Mercedes?” He claimed it boiled down to price. BMW offered a more competitive deal. Vickers exploited the competition between the German firms to get the best. “In the end we got what we wanted for less and didn’t give away any equity in Rolls-Royce.” Chandler claimed they went a long way towards drafting a deal with Mercedes-Benz, but “They took the loss philosophically.”

In January 1995 Peter Ward resigned the Rolls-Royce chairmanship, having favoured the Mercedes-Benz engine option, disagreed with the BMW contract and the measure of control given up to secure it, but had been over-ruled. Bernd Pischetsrieder of BMW arranged for more BMW involvement, drafting in suppliers for suspensions, air conditioning and electronics, with the aim of making the relationship secure. BMW drew up a long term contract for the supply of engines for the Silver Seraph and Arnage.

Fine craftsmanship but poor judgement of the market.
In the end it didn’t work. VW got Bentley, BMW Rolls-Royce, and Mercedes-Benz far from being philosophical about it, decided it wanted its own upper-class title and revived Maybach. Driven by pique, it appropriated a marque that hadn’t made a car since 1941.

There were two Maybachs, Wilhelm (1846-1929) partner of Gottlieb Daimler, and Karl Wilhelm (1879-1960) who set up the car factory in the 1920s with his father. The younger Maybach was principally an engine designer, responsible for power units in Count Zeppelin’s airships, a V12 diesel that sped the 1933 Fliegende Hamburger along the tracks at 112mph, and a mighty petrol V12 for the Königstiger tank of 1944.

Maybach cars were for ambassadors, such as Joachim von Ribbentrop, who wanted something more upper-crust than Horch or Mercedes. Only a Grosser Mercedes cost more and the Maybach boasted an overdrive transmission, providing eight gears and known as the Doppelschnellgang. The 1935 model was the SW35 (for Schwingachse 3.5 litre). Maybach made about 25 cars a year, perhaps over 2000 in all of which maybe 135 survive. The Reichsminister of Transport Dr Dorpmüller had a Maybach cabriolet with a voluptuous body by Erdmann & Rossi.

Maybach survived the war as an engine-maker MTU Friedrichshafen and was bought by Daimler-Benz in 1960. It was thus able to reinstate the Maybach name although still had to spend €1billion recreating its reputation. The cars were big, brash, exclusive and beautifully made but never got near the 1000 a year expected. Last year only about 200 Maybachs were sold, making some 3000 since the resuscitation of 2002. Rolls-Royce sold 2711 in 2010, Bentley just over 5,000. There was talk of Aston Martin producing a new generation of Maybachs on Mercedes’ behalf, but now Dieter Zetsche has said sales will end in 2013 and the S-Class widened from three to six to compensate, or save face depending how you look at it.

Mercedes-Benz is awash with gems. It didn’t need an ersatz Rolls-Royce.

Goodbye Maybach