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How and Why Mercedes Transforms its S-Class and GLS into Maybachs

The forthcoming, $100,000 2021 Mercedes-Benz S-Class, like all S-Classes, is on the bleeding edge of safety, technology, and sybaritism. It has as many acronymnical computer assistance protocols as the Department of Defense. It has a digital onboard personal assistant whose meddling condescension rivals that of 2001’s HAL9000. And it has more hide than one should realistically seek anywhere. So how does Benz envision making this vehicle even more lavish for their forthcoming 2021 Mercedes-Maybach S-Class?

“I think we added a lot of fancy content to create these Maybach versions, and to build that brand even further,” chief design officer Gorden Wagener says.

Fancy is a relative term. “The S-Class is obviously our flagship,” says Giovanni Domenech, Mercedes’ product manager for the S-Maybach. But the Maybach, in terms of luxury, has some key differentiators.”

The most prominent of these include a seven-inch wheelbase stretch, all granted to the rear compartment. This is done, according to Wagener, so that the brand can “put these first class seats in there, reclining almost like a bed, so you get that comfort that you’re used to from First Class in planes and boats and wherever these people are usually.”

Layers of shiny chrome jewelry rim the grille, hood, window openings, and rear. A Napa leather headliner slathers the inside of the roof. The rear doors power shut, the rear seatbelts power out on a robotic arm. The gas and brake pedals are Mercedes-Maybach branded, and knurled. There’s an exclusive scent for the AIR BALANCE in-car perfume atomizer system.

And then there’s the paint. “Let’s not forget about the two-tone colors we are offering just for Maybach,” Wagener says. This option began as a callback to the nameplate’s pre-World War II glory on the failed first re-launch of the Maybach name and the Maybach 57s and Maybach 62s of the mid-2000s. It has since become a brand signature, and Benz is doubling down on double-colors for the latest S-Maybach, offering 10 different options. These hues provide a bit of visual extravagance that is supposed to stay just this side of tawdry. “Opulence is good, but we want to always keep opulence tasteful,” Wagener says. “I think that separates us from the rest of the pack, without mentioning any names.”

When Mercedes chose to perform the Maybachization treatment on one of their sport utility vehicles—the so-called S-Class of SUVs, the GLS—they stuck closely to many elements in this recipe. They added copious amounts of chrome, leather, wood, and two-tone paint. But while they removed the truck’s third row of seats to allow the second row to move back five inches, incorporating the same First Class seats found in Mercedes-Maybach sedans, they did not enact any significant changes to the exterior.

“Well, the GLS is simply big enough,” Wagener says. “We moved the seats backwards, but it simply has enough space, naturally.”

Much of the focus on superficial glam and glitz is based on the markets in which Benz product planners anticipate that vehicles like this will sell best. “In terms of global perspective, the Chinese market is the number one Maybach market,” says Domenech. Shine sells.

More of a concern are the vagaries of the contemporary car market. Given consumers’ continued flight from traditional sedans, and into SUVs, we wondered if the existence of the GLS-Maybach would cannibalize sales from the S-Maybach? “We expect that there will be a distinction in demand rather than a substitution,” Paul Harmon, Benz’s product manager for the GLS-Maybach, says. “We therefore see the SUV as a supplementary offering for the portfolio, especially since our customers normally have more than one vehicle in their household.”

And enough money to have portfolios.

He may be right. According to Mercedes, Maybach buyers are brand loyal, with more than three-quarters of them moving up from an existing Benz product. They want the best, and are willing to pay for that perception. “Overall, it’s about the entire experience that we’re offering for the Maybach brand,” Wagener says. So you get the Mercedes-Maybach logo in the C-Pillar that illuminates at night, and the available champagne fridge, with Maybach-branded champagne flutes.

Alexander Edwards, whose automotive research and consulting firm Strategic Vision conducts an annual survey of hundreds of thousands of new car buyers, echoes this sentiment.

“There isn’t a single Maybach owner that states, ‘There are many different brands I would buy,‘” Edwards says. They don’t cross-shop. The connection they want with their vehicle is really a connection to how they want to be seen, or how they see themselves. “I think the quote here could be, ‘To thine own self be true,'” Edwards says.

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