"Benz" in Different Directions
By Jim Bray
plan to re-enter an upmarket niche in which it hasn't competed for years
appears well on track.
The merger between
Daimler-Benz and Chrysler means the automobile giant offers vehicles ranging
from inexpensive compact (Chrysler Neon) to high end luxury (Mercedes-Benz
S-Class). Now, the first 20 prototypes of the "super luxury" Mercedes-Benz
Maybach are undergoing testing with an eye toward full production and
deliveries next year.
The hand-built Maybach
(pronounced "My-back") brings the three-pointed stars back into a market
they haven't attacked since the 1930s' Maybachs and the early 1980s' model
Calling it "one of
the most ambitious development projects in the entire automobile industry,"
DaimlerChrysler promises the Maybach will "meet the highest expectations
in terms of style, appointments, comfort and technology." The Maybach
will also feature an air suspension system tweaked for maximum comfort,
helping create what the "Benz brain trust" says will be an automobile
that sets new standards in noise and climatic comfort.
Trials have also
begun for the new and powerful twin turbo, twelve-cylinder engine (16
and 20 cylinder power plants were also apparently considered before the
"12 banger" was settled on) powering the Maybach.
The top end model
is going to be BIG, and I don't mean in popularity. The $300,000 (estimated)
Maybach will be about nineteen feet from bumper tip to bumper tip, which
makes it longer than the Cadillac Deville or Bentley Arnage - and nearly
two feet longer than the current Mercedes-Benz S600. Mercedes-Benz will
also supply, on request, a shorter wheelbase model and the company claims
both cars will have "incomparable automotive personalities."
As it should in so
stratospheric an automobile, Maybach will also offer every comfort and
refinement of which one could think, from a "business package" to entertainment
systems. What this means to its well-heeled customers is that they'll
be able to configure their Maybach to their own tastes, at least when
it comes to materials, colors, gadgetry and technical features.
people claim that because of this flexibility, each Maybach will be an
exclusive and thoroughly unique specimen. Design concept pictures I saw
indicate a car that resembles a big "S-Class" Mercedes-Benz on steroids
and, while it's a little more blockish than the latest incarnations of
the company's flagships (yet still very aerodynamic), it's still one of
the most handsome "limousines" I've seen.
Pictures of the interior
remind me of the original Lexus LS400 and SC400, which to me are two of
the all time great automotive environments. The driver's area looks extremely
well laid out and the back seat, which is undoubtedly where many (if not
most) of the owners will sit as they're chauffeured around, looks cavernous.
The seats appear to have enough leg room for Paul Bunyan, and they recline.
Ceiling-mounted liquid crystal display TV screens will offer video programming,
and there's even a unit that slides out from the front between-seat console
that offers wood-trimmed storage for a bar, etc.
If that isn't enough,
the car's supposed to include three telephones and an "electrochromic
roof" that will allow rear seat passengers to tailor the amount of light
that rains down on them through what, in more pedestrian vehicles, would
be called a "moon roof."
Maybach is named for
Daimler-Benz chief designer Wilhelm Maybach (1846-1929), the man credited
as having been the brains behind the first Mercedes over a hundred years
ago. Mercedes-Benz is expected to offer "several hundred" Maybachs per
year in the U.S. once production has begun.
has also begun testing a new vehicle powered by fuel cells, which convert
hydrogen and oxygen into electricity stored in onboard batteries. The
zero emissions "NECAR" (New Electric Car) is based on the Mercedes-Benz
A-Class and is to put in some 25,000 miles of testing over the next three
years. The vehicle should reach a top speed of 90 mph.
planning to market its first fuel cell-powered buses next year, with the
first such cars appearing in 2004.
If that isn't enough,
on January 18th 2001, DaimlerChrysler unveiled a group of customized finishes
for its Mercedes-Benz line. Called "Designo," it offers combinations of
new paints and materials that can be individually selected - or purchased
as "designo packages" for people (like me) who yearn for the added zest,
but who can't color coordinate their own wardrobe. Designo is an extra-cost
Jim Bray's technology columns are distributed by the TechnoFILE and Mochila Syndicates. Copyright Jim Bray.