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The Rise and Fall of the Ultra-Luxurious Maybach

When embarking on a holiday at a luxury estate, most of us imagine ourselves pulling up to the estate house in style in some type of a luxury vehicle. If asked, most people would probably tell you that their preference for such a vehicle would likely be a Rolls Royce, a Bentley, Mercedes, Jaguar, or perhaps even a well-appointed Range Rover. Yet there is one uber-luxurious name that has been historically left out of the lineup when discussing preferred luxury vehicles; that name is Maybach.

Maybach was a luxury concept car designed by Maybach-Motorenbau GmbH, a company that was founded in 1909 by Wilhelm Maybach and his son, Karl. The Maybach company originally produced engines for Zeppelins, and later their engines were fitted into the great airships of World War I. They built their first luxury car in 1919, and although their main product continued to be engines, they did produce a series of ultra-luxurious cars during the first few decades of the 1900s. During the Second World War, Maybach produced engines for the Nazis, fitting their medium to heavy tanks with Maybach engines, a point that it has been argued may have contributed to the company’s lack of popularity after World War II.

The company changed hands a few times after World War II, but never again dabbled in luxury car production until Daimler-Benz (who owned Mercedes) purchased the company in 1960. After 1960, Maybach began producing cars regularly, albeit they were doing so under the Mercedes name.

Thirty-seven years later, Daimler (by then known as Daimler Chrysler; still of Mercedes fame), decided to try and reinvent the Maybach luxury car brand, and in 1997 showed a prototype luxury car at the Tokyo Auto Show.  From there, Maybach began production of the Maybach 57 and the Maybach 62; both of which were in production by 2005. By 2009, Maybach had added the 57s, the 62s, the Landaulet (the fastest of the Maybach fleet, accelerating from 0 to 60 in approximately four and a half seconds, despite its weight of over 6000 pounds/13,000 kg), and the Zeppelin.

The concept behind the production of the Maybach was to combine the advanced techniques of the Mercedes, with the exclusivity and customization of the legacy of Maybach’s original automotive ventures. The Maybach line was marketed at a very high price point (in 2009 base price for a Maybach 57 was nearly $350,000), and part of the marketing strategy was to try and sell the entire package of the “Maybach experience” to potential customers. The company urged customers to work with specially trained consultants to assist them in selecting everything from the materials used in the interior of the vehicle to the colour of the trims. There were options for engraved mouldings, Swarovski elements embedded into the leather seat trims, and even an option to take advantage of a perfume atomiser that could be installed in the vehicle so that customers would have control over the scent of the interior of the automobile. Standard options on Maybach vehicles included such features as a navigation system with voice recognition, 18-way power front and rear seats, a heated wood or leather wrapped steering wheel, a rear seat DVD system, a 10-disk CD changer, a keyless starting system, 4 climate control zones for heat and air conditioning, and night vision.

So what happened? As of October 2011, it was reported by Automotive News that the sale of Maybachs in the USA (the market that Daimler was hopeful the Maybach would do well), had been disappointingly low. The financial crisis of 2008 likely didn’t help either, but perhaps at the end of the day, the real reason Maybach never took off was that the cars that were being produced simply did not handle as well as the vehicles that were being made by their competitors like the aforementioned Rolls-Royce. Customers and critics alike complained about the poor driving dynamics and the seemingly awkward overly- elongated design of the body of the vehicle. Additionally, Daimler made a serious misstep in the marketing of the Maybach by failing to put any effort into marketing it as an owner-driven vehicle. This move was likely an effort to promote the “Maybach experience” of exclusivity, but it also unfortunately meant that automotive journalists were not invited to test drive the car as is customary for them to do, and were instead invited to ride around in the back seat. Ultimately, there are differing opinions in the automotive world as to what the final nail in the Maybach’s coffin really was. Some say that is was a victim of corporate hubris; a misstep by a company that thought bigger, better, and more bells and whistles would appeal to the super-rich over the more steadfast virtues of reliability and value. Others have said that the over-the-top styling of the Maybach did not appeal to the refined sensibilities of the elite, instead finding (a very limited) appeal with a handful of oligarchs and rap stars who do not mind, and even sought out the kind of bling that the Maybach was willing to provide. There may be some truth in this, as the company spent quite a lot of marketing power trying to entice emerging millionaires and billionaires in places like China and India, where they thought the oversized, status-conscious cars would surely make a splash. Instead, the very audience that they were playing to snubbed them, as Maybach did not have the one thing the status-obsessed consumer craves most of all; the prestige brand name.

In the end, it was a culmination of many factors that ended up being just too much for the struggling Maybach line to handle, and in 2011, Daimler’s CEO announced the cancellation of the Maybach brand. On the 17th of December 2012, the last Maybach rolled off the line in Sindelfingen, Germany. Daimler’s official stance on the matter is that the Maybach’s cancellation would clear the way for Mercedes, thus enabling greater sales of the next generation of their ever-popular S-Class vehicles.