July 31, 2002
by Tony Whitney
By any stretch of the imagination it was the automobile launch to top all automobile launches. It certainly upstaged anything I’d seen in 17 years of attending vehicle debuts all over the world.
The star of the show was the new super-luxury Maybach sedan which is being built by Mercedes-Benz and revives a nameplate not seen for some 60 years.
Not content with merely rolling the car out at an auto show, Maybach (pronounce it “my-back” and you’ll be close) came up with an exciting and imaginative way to premier its supercar which involved two continents and an ocean crossing.
Since many people – even auto enthusiasts – may never have heard of Maybach, a brief history lesson may be in order here. For two decades, from 1921 to 1941, Maybach was a nameplate to be reckoned with in the world of luxury cars. The automaker quickly built a major reputation for outstanding styling, flawless quality and technical excellence. One of the highlights was the flagship Zeppelin model which was some 5.5-metres long and ranked at the time as one of the most prestigious cars Germany had ever produced.
Interestingly, Maybach’s relationship with Mercedes-Benz goes back over a hundred years. Founder William Maybach was a long time colleague of Gottlieb Daimler and has been described as the “spiritual father” of the first Mercedes built in 1901 (Benz cars came even earlier). Later, Maybach teamed up with the legendary Graf Ferdinand von Zeppelin to found a company to produce power units for the famed Zeppelin airships. Work on a luxury car began in 1919 under the direction of William’s son Karl. The first car was built on a Mercedes chassis. Only 1,800 Maybachs were built in 20 years, so these cars are very rare and collectible today.
The debut 2003 Maybach began its journey when it was transported from the DaimlerChrysler plant in Sindelfingen, Germany, where the cars will be hand-built, to Southampton on England’s south coast. There, it was loaded onto the aft sun deck of the famous Queen Elizabeth II, more popularly known as the “QE2.” The stately car sat in a glass “showcase” during its Atlantic crossing and perhaps Maybach even won an advance order or two from well-heeled passengers during the voyage.
I joined a large group of media people who boarded a cruise boat at first light to watch the elegant QE2 sail up the Hudson River with its uncharacteristic automotive cargo. Having sailed majestically past the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and the now tragically-depleted Manhattan skyline, the ship slowed a little to allow a giant Sikorsky Skycrane helicopter to hoist the Maybach, complete with its showcase, to a nearby wharf. From there, the car finally rolled a wheel and was driven down Wall Street, up a ramp into a posh hotel, through the lobby and onto a stage for its first press conference.
With a launch like that, the car just has to be something special and it is. The nearest thing to a sticker price mentioned so far is US$300,000, so it will compete in a rarified market currently populated by products from lofty automakers like Rolls-Royce and Bentley.
There will be two body lengths – 6.16 metres and 5.72 metres and the longer car that was shipped over was impressive to say the least. Naturally, every imaginable luxury feature is incorporated, including rear seats that seem to perform like airline seats and are adjustable in several directions. They even include foot supports. The rear compartment has two flat-screen monitors, cementing the notion that this car is unlikely to be driven by its owner, so add a chauffeur’s salary to your Maybach budget. Imbibers will like the two silver wine goblets in the cocktail cabinet with their engraved Maybach logos.
It almost goes without saying that there’s a V-12 under the Maybach’s sleek hood. It’s a 5.5-litre unit with a duo of turbochargers. With 550 horsepower on tap, a Zero to 100 km/h time of 5.4-seconds is claimed, so the big beast is no slouch.
The interesting question for followers of the world automotive scene is “who will buy a car like this?” Maybach plans to build 1,000 of its cars a year so they will be added to an existing world market of approximately 5,000 to 6,000 cars in this class. Market research by Maybach has indicated that the potential world market for super-luxury cars is around 8,000 a year. Key markets around the world include North America, Europe, Asia and the Gulf States.
The sale of vehicles like this depends very much on the world economic situation, but I guess that there’s always someone, somewhere, who’s prepared to ante up the price of a fairly luxurious home to get a car which may soon rival Rolls-Royce in the “best car in the world” stakes.
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