Why Daimler's Ultra-Luxe Brand Couldn't Compete With Bentley And Rolls

Daimler took hubris to a new level believing that it could simply invent a new brand.

What was intended to make a big splash in the premium luxury car market has ended with a dull thud. Almost exactly a decade after it lifted the first of the big cars into New York by helicopter, Daimler AG has pulled the plug on its Maybach marque. And the odds are that few, if any, of the affluent motorists it was targeting will even notice the brand's departure.

Maybach was intended to go up against the most elite nameplates in the automotive market: Rolls-Royce and Bentley. But, in hindsight, it appears that Daimler took hubris to a new level believing that it could simply invent a new brand that would be taken seriously by the sort of buyers who want the Spirit of Ecstasy or Flying B hood ornaments on their cars.

Paul EisensteinPaul A. Eisenstein is Publisher of TheDetroitBureau.com and a 30-year veteran of the automotive beat. His editorials bring his unique perspective and deep understanding of the auto world to Autoblog readers on a regular basis.

Rolls-Royce landed with BMW, Bentley with Volkswagen. Not to be left out, Daimler decided to revive the ancient Maybach.

Of course, it didn't help that the parent of Mercedes-Benz thought it could get away with using an outdated platform and then gussy it up with such features as a crystal perfume atomizer that would automatically give the car a spritz every 15 minutes.

The Maybach brand actually did have a once-glorious history. The original company was founded in 1909, just three years after Charles Rolls and Henry Royce came together, and a decade before the upstart W.O. Bentley arrived on the scene.

In its original incarnation, the company was known as Luftfahrzeug-Motorenbau GmbH, and it produced engines for Zeppelin airships. But by 1919, Wilhelm Maybach's factory began rolling out some of the biggest and most elegant products ever to grace German roads. It continued through the early days of the Second World War before its plants were turned over to tank production. It never got back into the car business.

In its entire decade run Maybach barely sold as many units as Daimler had hoped for in a single year.

Not for 60 more years, anyway. But Maybach presented an appealing option for Daimler AG – actually, DaimlerChrysler back in the days just before the start of the new Millennium. The parent of Mercedes-Benz was the odd man out in a three-way bidding war for the Rolls-Royce Motor Co. when it was sold off by its British parent. In a confusing whir, Rolls landed with BMW, Bentley with Volkswagen AG. And, not to be left out, Daimler decided to revive the ancient Maybach.

A concept was shown in 1997; the production model, however, did not arrive until July 10, 2002, when the very first car was shipped to the States aboard the old QE2. Shortly after dawn, as the liner sailed into New York Harbor, a big Sikorsky cargo lifter swooped down, hooked up to a cargo container on the ship's deck and shot off for Manhattan, a "Maybach" banner flapping underneath.

Or, at least trying to flap. It never properly unfurled, perhaps an omen of things to come.

"We are not just presenting the car, but the brand. After this, the world will know Maybach is back," proclaimed Juergen Hubbert, the longtime head of Mercedes. But if potential luxury car buyers knew, they apparently didn't care. The ever-optimistic Hubbert, long known as "Dr. Mercedes," confidently predicted the brand would sell 1,000, perhaps even 2,000 cars, annually. In the end, Maybach struggled to find buyers for 100. In its entire decade run it barely sold as many as Daimler had hoped for in a single year.

Instead of developing a unique, state-of-the-art platform, the German maker lifted the prior-generation S-Class architecture.

Of course, the upper end of the luxury car market hasn't matched the optimistic expectations that abounded at the turn of the new Millennium. Back then, the industry was selling perhaps 7,000 vehicles a year priced at more than $150,000 – more than half carrying the prancing pony of the Ferrari brand. Hubbert and others anticipated sales would surge as more competition entered the market, perhaps reaching 25,000 or more.

The demographics seemed to support that expectation. The number of global billionaires was growing faster than Apple or Google stock and, certainly, they would all seem to want a Rolls, Bentley, Maybach – or something more exotic, like a Ferrari or Lamborghini – in their 10-car garages. At least, that's how it played out on paper.

Ultra-premium sales did grow, Bentley nudging the 10,000-annual mark, at its peak. But the segment, overall, failed to deliver. Why? That's anyone's guess. Tom Purves, former head of Rolls, once cautioned that many potential buyers were reluctant to be seen in something that exclusive. In some markets that would make them a target of kidnappers or terrorists. In others, it would be embarrassing, he said, to roll up to a factory you're about to close driving a Rolls-Royce.

Even that crystal atomizer couldn't make the Maybach smell sweet enough to get one-percenters into its showrooms.

Maybach had its own set of problems. Despite its once-proud heritage, the Double-M hood ornament simply didn't carry the gravitas of a Flying B or Spirit of Ecstasy, for one thing. And then there were the questionable technical decisions Daimler made in preparing its first Maybach models. Instead of developing a unique, state-of-the-art platform, the German maker lifted the prior-generation S-Class architecture. True, Maybach tried to overcome that deficit with fancy features like the M62's business jet-style back seat and a trick glass roof that could be switched from clear to opaque with the touch of a button.

But even that cut crystal atomizer in the recent Zeppelin model couldn't make the Maybach smell sweet enough to get many one-percenters into its showrooms. By late 2011, Daimler had had enough. The maker announced it would phase out the brand – which it has now done quicker than expected with last month's quiet end to Maybach production.

Mercedes' new U.S. boss, Steve Cannon, is optimistic the brand can cover the loss of the ultra-luxury line with additional versions of the all-new S-Class coming next year, including the S600 Pullman slated for 2014. He admits a few of those existing Maybach owners might go elsewhere when it's time for a trade-in. But considering how few were ever sold, it's likely Daimler won't even notice.

Paul EisensteinPaul A. Eisenstein is Publisher of TheDetroitBureau.com and a 30-year veteran of the automotive beat. His editorials bring his unique perspective and deep understanding of the auto world to Autoblog readers on a regular basis.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 2 Years Ago
      It made no sense, why would anyone pay that much for something with such an uninteresting design? At least with a Rolls you are getting a bespoke, handmade product with a design routed in tradition, the Maybach was just a name pulled from history and a design pulled from Mercedes with really nothing innovative or different to define the brand.
        • 2 Years Ago
      • 2 Years Ago
      BMW did it with Rolls. VW did it with Bentley (and even Buggati) Mercedes failed with Mayabach... because they slapped a W220 interior into a stretched W140 (crudely put)
        • 2 Years Ago
      • 2 Years Ago
      I thought it was a nice car but it looked too much like a regular Benz, a $300,000 Benz. I bet most can't tell the difference between an S Class and an S57.
        chest rockwell
        • 2 Years Ago
        I agree - I bet very few folks could name it if they saw one. I've seen Maybachs around Atlanta several times (hell, there's actually one for sale right down the road from my work in Marietta off Cobb Pkwy) - they are not head turners by any means. Besides their size, the two-tone paint jobs are the only things that make them stick out in a crowd.
      • 2 Years Ago
      For there having been so few made, I've actually seen Maybachs at least a few times on the road. The only impressive aspect may have been their cavernous back seat area. Other than that, they were smoking a lot of kush thinking that tarting up an S-Class - one that was already well into its generation run at the time - was going to get them a lot of sales. Everything for a buyer in that price range should be custom, and this car wasn't. Mercedes dash, Mercedes styling, Mercedes engines, even Mercedes wheels many times. Even the Exelero reused some Mercedes parts. And, these cars had no presence. They looked like non-descript Mercs that were modified by a small boutique operation. A lot of money spent to be little more than a footnote in automotive history. Wonder what the resale values are like...
      fly by wireless
      • 2 Years Ago
      Maybach would have sold handily if they'd taken the time to style it. Just making it look like one of the long-hooded full-fendered classics of yore would have made the boxy, puffed up RR and melted-soap Bentleys look like overpriced corollas. Alas, they chose to make it look like a stretched, overweight S-class. It should have looked like a **mildly** warmed over version of this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Maybach-Limousine.jpg
      chest rockwell
      • 2 Years Ago
      It's a bad thing when a Bentley or Rolls seem like a good investment compared to a Maybach. The rate they depreciate at is crazy!
        to your email L
        • 2 Years Ago
        @chest rockwell
        Yup I saw a TV show something about cars and there was an 85 RR that was worth less that 10000 USD, wonder what a 10 yr old used Maybach will go for now, or do we have to wait nother 10 years.
      • 2 Years Ago
      There was no flaws just PRICE that killed this car,.
        • 2 Years Ago
        Exactly, the only people who could have afforded one were the HP moderators and the HP/AOL software support people, BUT they are in Chinaor India and and have to drive Chery's (Chinese Chevy)
      Phillip Klepper
      • 2 Years Ago
      I work in lower Manhattan and see several Maybachs each day. There will be a chauffer waiting for their investment banker boss. The Maybach wasn't for the top 1%, it was for the top 0.01% and it didn't distinguish itelf enough from the S-Class Mercedes. For the price of a Maybach, one could buy an S-Class Mercedes, a Porsche 911, a weekend home in the Poconos, several custom-made suits and still have enough money for a nice overseas vacation.
      • 2 Years Ago
      Maybachs biggest failing was its styling. It just didn't look premium. Sure, it was longer than an S-Class, but it also looked cheaper. The article mentions that Bentley almost hit 10,000 units one year. Why? The Continental. It came out, and people fell in love with the styling and gobbled them up. If the Maybach had a design that people drooled over, it could have been a success.
      • 2 Years Ago
      D-B missed in three ways with the Maybach: First, they depended on today's buyers knowing a brand that has had no exposure since before WW II. Second, they made it look like a big S-Class. Third, they priced their big S-Class replica at three times what an S-Class cost. I live near Palm Beach, Florida, where Bentleys and R-R's are as common as Chevys. I've only seen three Maybachs, and they were all used as shuttles at Donald Trump's wedding. Knowing the Donald, he probably got them as freebie loaners for the product placement on his TV show. Even he wouldn't buy one. So long, Maybach. We hardly knew 'ya. And we couldn't care less that you're gone.
        • 2 Years Ago
      • 2 Years Ago
      It's worth noting that a lot of the guys in the market for +$250k cars care about technology and performance in addition to style and cachet. Maybach wasn't a very impressive car on paper, let alone in person. I drove one a few years ago when they were offering test drives to basically anyone with a platinum card (that was a sign of the end), and it felt like an 11/10 scale S600. Nothing really notable about it. A couple cool whiz-bang features, but that was it. Certainly couldn't justify more than $300k on one, especially when an Arnage T (this was a while ago) felt a lot more special and an S600 had superior technology and performance. And those of you saying you never see them: I've lived in Miami and Atlanta each for four years, and I see a Maybach at least once a month. There are a few entertainer/athlete types who use them as daily drivers. Again, no real road presence about them.
      • 2 Years Ago
      And nothing of value was lost.
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