The announcement that Mercedes is to discontinue the Maybach brand is probably no surprise. But its axing also closes the chapter of Mercedes’ nightmare decade.
It more or less started with the launch of the Mercedes A-Class in 1997, one of few really radical cars of recent times, but one whose launch was marred by a roll-over incident that went global, much in the way of build and mechanical problems in the first few years of production.
Even the E-Classes produced in this period were either ageing disgracefully (Merc spent much money de-rusting and re-painting the mediocre W210) or battling engineering problems (the W211 suffered, among other issues, significant autobox failures and an experiment with electric braking was abandoned mid-series).
Mercedes also failed to make the grade with the all-new Smart brand. Although it was hard to fault the freshness of the thinking, again the project was marred by numerous problems, not least the vast amount of money Smart and its all-new factory managed to lose.
Maybach was first revived as a concept at the Tokyo show in 1997, before going on sale in 2002. It may have squeezed onto the market before BMW’s new Rolls Royce Phantom, but the old-school S-Class platform and odd Merc-meets-Rover-75 styling did not match up to the Phantom’s aluminium spaceframe and cutting-edge looks.
Indeed, BMW’s handling of the re-birth of both Rolls Royce and Mini and its consistency with its own-brand vehicles over the last 15 years has been notably superior to what arch-rivals Mercedes have managed. Mind you, it’s a toss-up as to whether Mercedes’ purchase of Chrysler or BMW’s purchase of Rover Group was the bigger corporate disaster.
Of course Mercedes came roaring back into contention with the excellent 2007 C-Class and 2009 E-Class, both of which saw a conscious return to quality and thorough engineering. The planned demise of Maybach, leaked out just ahead of the 2011 Tokyo show, fourteen years after the brand was revived, marks the last model born in an era that most at the three-pointed star would rather forget.