Now, the three-pointed star brand has upped the top-down ante, with the unveiling this week at the Los Angeles auto show of the Mercedes-Maybach S650 Cabriolet, a vehicle so opulent, it sits in price and position atop the uber-luxury brand's current top-of-the-line offering, the $247,900 Mercedes-AMG S65 Cabriolet.
"Mercedes-AMG is our performance brand so it's all about performance stuff," says Wagener in a one-on-one interview on the roof of a Beverly Hills mansion just before the new car is unveiled. "Of course, Maybach has power, too, but it's the ultimate in luxury. So it's more on that side. And for me in the interior, it's the haute couture of the automobile, so we tried to up that a little more with details. And on the exterior, it's a more superb appearance up front, more chrome, more rich, and of course we tried to up that branding even more. The S-Class is the best car in the world, we consider, I always thought we could raise the Mercedes brand. And it's the same with the S convertible."
Why does Mercedes-Benz need a flagship atop its flagship? Because, when climbing the mountain of automotive luxury there is always the customer who, when he or she reaches the pinnacle, wants more. A car brand, especially one with deep pockets and luxurious heritage like Mercedes, can always further gild the automotive lilies, creating a step up for those for whom the brand's motto, The Best or Nothing, is a literal life credo.
"It's always our job to make it better," Wagener says. "Each little detail, the wood, the wood under cover of the cabriolet, the leathers. All the super luxury details that make a luxury car into a super luxury car. The key is to make a modern luxury design and not a traditional luxury design. There is definitely a market for traditional luxury, but we always wanted to have Mercedes, Maybach in particular, as a modern luxury car. That's why we chose this location here in the hills because the car is maybe more tasteful, in terms of beauty, according to our hot and cool philosophy – it's really hot but it's also really cool. So I love this definition of super luxury. "
What Benz is selling here – more than additional chrome, and fitted luggage, and an interior whose leather, like the old definition of genius, is 90 percent perforation and 10 percent inspiration – is exclusivity. The S650 rides on the exact same platform as the "regular" S-Class Cabriolet. Yet, only 300 of the convertibles will be made (only 75 for America) each with a numbered plaque signed by the brand's CEO designating their numerological position. And if this interior symbolism isn't enough, the commanding and commandeering Double-M symbol on the cars' trunk and flanks will readily communicate to anyone in the know that the owner is a person of means, discerning in, if nothing else, their ability to spend money.
All of which begs the question of whether there is a limit to automotive luxury, a point at which it ceases to add value or perceived value, and becomes, like some sort of Dutch Tulip craze or zero-sum game of one-upmanship, simply an escalation in meaningless signifiers. "No," Wagener says. "There's no limit."