November 30, 2011
The Brand Blunder of this young century.
By Peter M De Lorenzo
(Posted 11/29, 9:00 a.m.) Detroit. Daimler has quietly thrown in the towel on its much-ballyhooed Maybach brand, nearly a decade after it promised the world that it would provide a “private jet-like” experience on the road for those well-heeled enough to care about such things. It is scheduled to disappear from view permanently in 2013.
It wasn’t that long ago – back in 2002 to be exact – in the midst of the now infamous luxury auto brand feeding frenzy that saw the VW conglomerate acquire Bentley, and BMW subsequently taking control of Rolls-Royce (after VW was forced to let go of it), Daimler and its Mercedes-Benz division were left holding the bag.
Suddenly feeling chair-less after the music stopped, brainiacs within Daimler came up with the perfect response to the situation in their estimation, and that was to do an uber sedan that would slot above the S-Class in its lineup, and then hang one of the great names from its past on it. Thus the Maybach was born.
Now though this name was of great significance to Daimler executives and German auto enthusiasts (Wilhelm Maybach was a gifted engineer and engine designer who worked closely with Gottleib Daimler in the very early days pre-Mercedes-Benz) it meant exactly not so much to the rest of the world and especially in this market. In fact not many really cared about the significance of the Maybach name or had even heard of it before. Even the select Mercedes-Benz dealers who were being asked to redirect their showrooms to accommodate the Maybach were puzzled and more than a little skeptical of the move.
It wasn’t the nosebleed sticker prices of the Maybach that caused the hand wringing; it was the fact that the Maybach looked like nothing more than a glorified S-Class, a dated and uninspired one at that.
While VW was stopping traffic with the sensational Bentley Continental GT coupe, and BMW was reimagining and contemporizing the in-your-face proportions of the Rolls-Royce, Daimler launched the Maybach not to sighs and swoons, but to a collective thud followed by a lingering “WTF?” As in, these guys are kidding, right?
To say it was lackluster and lacked presence was an understatement. The Maybach looked old and tired the moment it hit the floor at the Detroit Auto Show and it never got better. And once it sunk-in with potential customers that Daimler was charging a boatload of cash for what was for all intents and purposes a tarted-up S-Class, the Maybach was D.O.A.
That alone would have been enough of a demoralizing handicap to stop any automaker in its tracks, but then again we need to remind ourselves that this was indeed Daimler and its show dog Mercedes-Benz brand that we’re talking about. And the arrogance there knows no bounds. As a matter of fact it oozes out of the executive suite at a prodigious rate, fueled by the rarified air they breathe that’s pumped full of hubris and smug self-importance. And they’re so lost in the swirling maelstrom of their own greatness, they wouldn’t know or see a brand blunder the size of the Titanic coming if it crashed into their headquarters.
So it was completely lost on the Daimler executives that by launching the Maybach and announcing to the public that this was in fact the state of the Mercedes-Benz car building art, they were also announcing to Mercedes-Benz dealers and legions of loyal customers that for the first time in memory the S-Class would now be classified as yesterday’s news. That the S-Class was no longer “the best or nothing” but merely a supporting player in the Mercedes-Benz lineup, and as you can imagine this development didn’t go over well.
That Daimler executives could cut the legs out from under its own once-vaunted S-Class in one fell swoop is a testament to the depth and breadth of their arrogance and how they are absolutely convinced that they can have their way in the automotive world with impunity.
It’s this exact same thinking-in-a-vacuum that has caused Daimler and its once-hallowed Mercedes-Benz brand to be rocked to their core by the more focused and hungrier leadership at Audi and BMW. The Mercedes-Benz brand now finds itself treading water, desperately trying to rediscover its mojo, while its competitors are handing their asses to them in the brand image sweepstakes. Hell, Mercedes-Benz can’t even muster a winning Formula 1 team, that’s how bad things are.
Sure, now Daimler’s Dieter Zetsche is trumpeting the fact that Mercedes-Benz will get back to being Mercedes-Benz and that without the diversion of resources to Maybach they will be able to focus on their core brand, but I’ve heard this song before from Uncle Dieter. And it doesn’t ring true.
These people don’t get it. And they haven’t gotten it for a long, long time. They’re stuck in a toxic time warp of past triumphs and glories, telling themselves that “it won’t be long now!” before it all comes right and that the good ‘ol days are just around the corner again.
Funny, but I heard the same thing from the “old” GM not that many years ago too. Needless to say, that didn’t exactly work out for them, now did it?
That Daimler executives would squander their once-unimpeachable brand and brand legacy is really no surprise to me. I’ve said it before and I’ll probably say it again before I stop writing and producing Autoextremist.com, but never have so many done so little with so much.
The Maybach leaves the stage as a cautionary tale and a painful reminder to Daimler that the clock is ticking on their own mortality as well if they can’t get their proverbial act together.
As we like to say around here, Not Good.
And that's the High-Octane Truth for this week.
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