Can Maybach Be Mended?

The plan was nothing if not ambitious: Dust off a long-dead nameplate with zero recognition, take on Rolls-Royce for the title of Best--or at least Most Expensive--Car in the World, and sell about 1000 examples a year to the superrich.

0508 Maybach Excelero 02 445

The Maybach arrived for the 2004 model year and very quickly proved just how ambitious that plan was. Particularly the last part. The brand sold a grand total of 146 cars in the United States last year and 152 the year before--about one-third of Rolls-Royce's U.S. sales. Uh-oh.

"Although it took a while to sink in, everyone involved knows now that it's not the brand that's at fault," claims one Maybach source. "It's the current product in general and the design in particular. The Exelero show car did more for us than all the tweaks to the 57/62 series combined. Recently, we presented our management a couple of promising concepts, among them a four-seat luxury coupe. But at the moment, most of our work is undercover. You just can't fire a bunch of people at Chrysler and simultaneously spend millions on a new Maybach."

One possible short-term boost could come from a Maybach edition of the Mercedes-Benz GL-class SUV. Don't laugh. Cheap to build and expensive to buy, the Maybach GL would be the brand's first real moneymaker. The plan is to give it a Maybach grille, new bumpers, a revised rear end, more brightwork, and wider wheels. The cabin would be upgraded with top-grade leather and wood and rear lounge seats like those in the 57/62. Some 1500 vehicles would be sold, but only outside of Europe.

Ultimately, however, everyone agrees that what Maybach really needs is a new mid-size model priced in the $225,000-to-$275,000 bracket. "The best bet is a stylish and powerful four-door, four-seat coupe--kind of a bigger CLS for the very rich," says our friend in product planning.

That project is based on the S-class. The design is brand-new, and it's said to be much more convincing than Maybach's first effort. Unusual elements include unique exterior lighting that emits a soft glow accentuating certain body contours, a variable-tint glass roof, and a gauge cluster whose display changes based on driving conditions. For propulsion, engineers favor the 5.5-liter turbo V-12, which can make up to 600 hp and more than 700 lb-ft of torque.

But the big question is whether management will pour still more cash into Maybach--or will this nameplate be allowed to slip back into the past?

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