It wasnt to everyones taste but that is exactly the point of hyper-luxury objects such as the Mercedes-Maybach concept which premiered at AutoChina 2018

It wasn't to everyone's taste but that is exactly the point of hyper-luxury objects such as the Mercedes-Maybach concept which premiered at AutoChina 2018

The focus of just-auto's series which examines OEMs' current and future models now turns to Daimler. Mercedes-Maybach, Denza and smart comprise the first chapter; to be followed by Mercedes-Benz passenger cars; SUVs and the X-Class pick-up; and finally, EQ electrified models.

Mercedes-Maybach

The first reinvention of the former Maybach luxury car marque didn't go so well, Daimler eventually seeing that it needed to give up on trying to directly compete with Rolls-Royce and Bentley. That neither of these brands makes enough money to be self-funding let alone deliver handsome dividends for the parent firm should have been obvious. That fact was set to one side by previous Daimler management in the same way that Aston Martin's owner is presently ignoring the reality of tiny profits from R-R and Bentley as it rushes to revive Lagonda.

Daimler saw - not too late, luckily - that the top of the current economic cycle in the USA, Europe and possibly China too would probably be reached around 2019 or 2020. Any separate super-luxury division will become a liability as the hyper-rich delay their purchases so as not to be seen flaunting wealth during a downturn. That would prove disastrous for Maybach as a standalone brand, thus the decision to reinvent its models as low-volume super-exclusive versions of high-end Mercedes cars and SUVs. It also means the resale values are in some cases far better than the roughly equivalent second-hand Bentley, Rolls-Royce, Range Rover and Porsche models.

The recently out of production but hugely in demand G 650 Landaulet was a case in point and shows exactly how Daimler has struck gold with Maybach at long last. This was the first SUV for the Mercedes-Maybach brand. The engine was a biturbo V12 which produced 1,000Nm and 463kW (630PS).

Magna Steyr built 99 units of this open-top SUV and each was quickly snapped up, the final one going for US$1.4m at auction. Not a bad result for a then-28 year old basic design which was about to be replaced, two facts which any potential buyer will have known.

There is likely to be a successor to the G650, based on the second generation G-Class. It will probably be called G650 and G680 (different names for different countries) and shall be a slightly altered version of the same five-door SUV but with an engine that is unavailable to buyers of the Mercedes G-Class. Daimler is steadily pulling its V12 out of Mercedes-Benz and Mercedes-AMG models, limiting it to Mercedes-Maybach vehicles.

The Maybach G-Class will likely appear in 2020, positioned above the new Mercedes-AMG G 63 (G63 in North America).

There is another SUV in the pipeline. Sharing major components with the next generation Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class, it is being developed as a challenger for the most expensive Range Rover variants as well as for the Rolls-Royce Cullinan and Bentley Bentayga.

The Vision Mercedes-Maybach Ultimate Luxury concept (see image above) from the 2018 Beijing motor show might have been a preview. This was a large sedan with raised suspension and a ridge along the roof, back window and boot lid. Many thought it ungainly and vulgar while others fell in love with the unconventional looks and certain exquisite details, such as the wheels.

As with other GLS variants, the Mercedes-Maybach will be manufactured in the USA. The name could be GLS680 Sedan in China, GLS650 Sedan in other countries and GLS650 Sedan in North America.

Will Daimler also release a Mercedes-Maybach SL650/SL680? It could well do. On the other hand, the sub brand's range may remain limited to luxury models rather than pure sports cars. Full details of R232, the next generation SL, will be in the forthcoming feature on Mercedes-Benz passenger cars.

When it comes to full-sized sedans, Mercedes-Maybach offers several extended wheelbase variants of the S-Class. These cars replaced the Maybach 57 and 63. There are three cars: the S560, S650 (S680 in China) and Pullman. Brabus has built the Mercedes-Maybach Pullman at its Bottrop works since December 2015. There is also an armoured version.

The Pullman has four face-to-face seats and a glass partition which can be darkened to give the passengers privacy from the driver. With a length of 6,499mm, the car is 1,053mm longer than the Mercedes-Maybach S-Class and at 1,598mm, it is more than 100mm higher than a Mercedes-Benz S-Class.

Daimler revealed facelifted and renamed variants at Auto Shanghai in April 2017. The S500 became the S560 and gained a new biturbo engine. The S600, meanwhile, retained its V12 but changed named to S680 though this is only for the Chinese market. In North America, the S680 is the S650.

Mercedes-Benz USA announced its 2018 model year changes in August 2017. A further update for the cars premiered at the Geneva motor show in March. Two-tone paint became optional, there were fresh 20-inch wheels, a new grille and a rise in power to 630PS (463PS).

The next generation Mercedes-Maybach S-Class sedans should appear in late 2020.

There will in all likelihood soon be a replacement for the S650 Cabriolet. This car, closely based on the S-Class Cabriolet, was revealed at the LA auto show in November 2016. Daimler built 300 cars of which 75 went to the USA, thus the LA show launch. The S650 was powered by a 462kW (630hp) 6.0-litre biturbo V12. Its torque output was 1,000Nm. The price in Germany was 300,000 euro.

A facelifted S-Class Cabriolet range had its world debut at the Frankfurt IAA in September 2017. As well as the styling changes, the 4.7-litre V8 was replaced by a more powerful 4.0-litre V8. The range became as follows: 3.0-litre V6 S 450 4MATIC and bi-turbo 4.0-litre V8 S 560/S 560 4MATIC. The updated range was in German dealerships from January. So far there is no news on a direct successor for the S650 Cabriolet but it wouldn't be surprising if Daimler announces such a model during 2019 or 2020 as another limited edition.

Denza

This brand is a joint venture established eight and a half years ago by Daimler and BYD. Based in China, it has so far produced only one model, the battery-electric 500. This car is now four years old and therefore into the second half of what should be a seven-year production run.

Originally called Denza and then Denza 400, the car lost weight and gained a new chemistry battery pack as well as a name change in March to reflect the number of kilometres it can now travel when fully charged.

The JV includes design, e-drivetrains, heavy-duty batteries, and components related to electric vehicles for the Chinese market only and the partners also have a strategic partnership with ABB. Denza and the Swiss-Swedish engineering group are aiming to establish the world's largest charging infrastructure in China by 2020.

In September 2017, BYD chairman Wang Chuanfu told the media that his firm and Daimler were exploring the idea of adding more Denza models but gave no further details. Since then, sales of the 500 have remained less than brisk.

Daimler appears to have lost interest in Denza. In fact, the JV was likely set up mainly to show the authorities in Beijing that it was willing to comply with directives to share certain EV technology with a local OEM. Developing the Mercedes-Benz EQ sub-brand not just in the PRC but worldwide is now Daimler's main focus in the area of electrified vehicles.

smart

Is smart part of Daimler's future? It could go either way for this brand. The company does not announce financials for the division, which has led most analysts to presume that the division has never made any money. The performance of smart in the USA is even more worrying than flat-lining sales in Europe.

During the first half of CY2018, ACEA data show smart having sold 52,132 cars Europe-wide (0.7%), while Mercedes-Benz USA delivered an alarming 650 cars during the same half-year period. The latest strategy of selling only electric versions of the fortwo, smart USA's sole model, could be called 'brave'. Other words have been suggested by some.

As is always the case with a troubled brand, the answer is image and products. Why smart hasn't been allowed to expand into SUVs leads many to believe that Daimler is planning to close the division. Certainly, the recent announcement that the smartville factory in France is to manufacture the EQA, a future electric Mercedes-Benz small car, only adds to the speculation.

The worldwide line-up continues to consist of the fortwo and forfour, both of which are offered with petrol and electric power. The platform is a JV with Renault, with the four-seaters manufactured by the French firm at a plant in Slovenia. All smart fortwo cars - hatchbacks and cabrios - come out of Hambach in France. Both are due to have some styling updates later in 2018, production then continuing for up to a further three to four years.

Whether or not smart continues as its own division with replacements for the fortwo and forfour might be open to speculation but what isn't in doubt is the phasing out of combustion engines. That will apply to the current cars from 2020 in western Europe and the rest of the world shortly after. So said Daimler in a media statement released on the eve of this year's Geneva motor show.

Why the company is doing something so extreme when demand for electric cars in all regions remains low compared to the overall market is perplexing. Making smart a so-called 'e-mobility brand' may impress those who believe in buzzwords. Is it good business sense though?

In a best case scenario, smart will gain A and B segment electric crossovers and SUVs to replace the fortwo and forfour in 2021, their pricing being somewhat higher than today's cars, and sales would be strong, pushing the brand well beyond a total volume of 150,000 vehicles per annum. That is going to require a lot of money and a change of heart by car buyers everywhere at a time when people are starting to back away from EVs due to the steep cost of insurance. It would also represent quite a leap from what's been happening in recent years, when smarts were available with petrol engines thus offering buyers a choice. In 2017, sales dropped by six per cent to 136,000 cars.

That Daimler is willing to put half a billion euro into smartville to update the factory to manufacture at least one model on its MFA2-EQ architecture suggests that making a couple of other electric models under a different brand might not be too daunting a task, expense wise.

Right now, we simply don't know what will become of smart but it certainly has a chance of surviving and possibly thriving in the 2020s. That depends largely on whether or not electric cars ever become a viable way of making money for any OEM.

Future model plan reports for other manufacturers can be viewed in the OEM product strategy summaries section of just-auto.com.

Future product program intelligence

More detail on the past, current and forthcoming models for every division of Daimler AG can be found in PLDB, the future vehicles database which is part of QUBE.

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