Maybach says it has a plan to conjure something that will appeal to the world's moneyed class even if it cannot draw from an esteemed (or, at least, consistent) pedigree. First, it keeps the cars just out of reach.
"The purpose of Maybach is not to churn out new models even every year," Kallenius says. "You have got to keep it special. Lower volume, discerning customers. Every now and then, we will sprinkle the Maybach manufacturer brand on top of a few [Mercedes] products."
And then it punches you in the nose. Stylistically speaking, of course.
The Mercedes-Maybach Haute Voiture, so named after a play on haute couture and the French word for car, is a prime example. The white faux-fur mats that line its floors are so long and shaggy Penny Lane herself would approve. The rose gold studs lining the arctic white seats and matching Champagne flutes in the rear recall the visual cues of a bridal shower brunch. Intricate stitching across niveous leather seats and Maybach logos festooned across the car scream for attention.
Proudly unapologetic? That is the whole idea.
"Some people may say it's terrible, but that is exactly what we should do as a luxury brand — it's a shock," says Steffen Köhl, the director of advanced exterior design during an interview at Mercedes's design studio in Nice, France. "Disruptiveness and contradiction are a source of creativity."
The shock comes as much from the size and price of the vehicle as it does from all of the extra cosmetic and personalization options available. A Mercedes-Maybach S-Class starts at $185,000 — $74,000 more than a regular S-Class. And it's bigger. Maybach sedans offer a wheelbase 18 cm (7.1 inches) longer than that of the standard S-Class.
"Maybach wants to express wealth through footprint, how big the object is," says Frank Stephenson, a Moroccan-born American automobile designer who has worked for BMW, Mini, Ferrari, Maserati, Fiat, Lancia, Alfa Romeo, and McLaren. "It's almost cartoonish."
There's no question such pizzazz helps ensure the cars appeal to Chinese buyers, who tend to pay for more outré designs and skew far younger in age and far wealthier than do the consumers of Mercedes vehicles. The average age of a Maybach buyer in China is mid-40s, and across the brand it's largely under 50, which is younger than the average Mercedes buyer.
"The Chinese market is a younger market, which is not bashful about showing its wealth, and the Maybach certainly does that," Stephenson says.
It's an attitude that is spreading, if you ask the folks at Mercedes. The power to surprise is Maybach's best chance of grabbing car buyers' attention — regardless of the locale — they say.
"China is the biggest car market in the world. And it's also the biggest luxury car market in the world. And naturally it's the biggest Maybach market in the world," says Kallenius. "But the United States is very important. Western Europe is important. Korea is important. Japan is important. Middle East is of course important. There are other markets around the world that crave the same type of vehicles."