An exclusive interview with Dirk Fetzer, the Head of Product Management S-Class and Derivates, S-Class Maybach, Head of Mercedes-Benz GUARD, at the 2017 Dubai International Motor Show
Can you tell us more about the Maybach line?
When Mercedes-Benz relaunched the Maybach in 2014, it was because we got feedback from our customers saying that they wanted a little more from their cars. They wanted something extra; they wanted to go a bit further in the luxury and bespoke direction. When we relaunched the first model, the success that we had with it actually was quite overwhelming. We sold 15,000 Maybach since then which is for us a great success on a worldwide scale; one in 10 S Class is a Maybach.
In which market is the Maybach performing best?
The Maybach is doing well in the United States as well as the Middle East and China; these are the main markets for this line. The desire for luxury is there everywhere in the world. So I’ve tried not to take a single market out, and we are proud to serve a customer even if he is in a small country and the only one.
How would you describe the Maybach customer?
It is slightly different all over the world when it comes from region to region but
I think there’s one common denominator for the Maybach customers. They obviously see and appreciate the extra portion of luxury the car has to offer. They have an exquisite taste, but they do not want to show off. Maybach is the Mercedes’ niche product; the car will never be and never wants to be tacky. I like to call it a connoisseur’s car, and it is so subtle that only people who share the same taste will recognize and therefore there’s always a show but no show-off.
What are the production steps for a car like the Maybach and what is its life cycle?
I think car development and the process. This is for me one of the most exciting things that I ever experienced in my professional career. There is a lot of collaborations between departments, and it is excellent to see how very experienced interdisciplinary teams are organized in the project. Several years before a car is on the market, the Mercedes-Benz team are already working on the communication strategy as well as the rough outline and details of the vehicle. The strength of Mercedes-Benz is the great mixture of experienced people and young new engineers and technicians. There is a lot of exchange between divisions, and I believe this communication process is the key to our success and the reason why we create some of the best cars in the world.
“Several years before a car is on the market, the Mercedes-Benz team are already working on the communication strategy as well as the rough outline and details of the vehicle.”
How long does it take from the first drawing to the first sale?
Seven years’ cycle is an average; sometimes it is longer and sometimes shorter. It is difficult to indeed identify all the steps. The most important thing before diving into the engineering part is understanding what customers really want. That is why we spend a lot of time and resources conducting customer research.
We have recently seen a Maybach concept car, the Vision 6. Is it something that we could see on the roads anytime soon?
The concepts are a statement of where the company wants to go, in terms of design philosophy. What we usually do with concepts is testing the customer response. Now the feedback from the customers for the Vision 6 was outstanding. We usually listen to our customers very carefully therefore never say never. Currently, we don’t plan to bring it to life yet. So I always say that with a little bit of a smile but that’s the usual story with concept cars.
You are also in charge of the bulletproof car division at Mercedes-Benz, can you tell us more about it?
We have the longest history of building bulletproof cars worldwide. We’ve been doing this since 1928. I’m proud to say that we are probably producing the best and the highest protected bulletproof cars in the world. The art of building a bulletproof car is having the highest protection without necessarily noticing it at first glance and without compromising on interior space, comfort, luxury or even longevity. It is a very demanding division that meets the highest standards. The customers that we target with our bulletproof S Class and Maybach are heads of state or people that run multinational companies that have specific requirements for safety and security.
“The art of building a bulletproof car is having the highest protection without necessarily noticing it at first glance and without compromising on interior space, comfort, luxury or even longevity”
The goal of this division is basically to make the bulletproof models look like the traditional ones?
I would say that only automotive experts would see that they are bulletproof cars and this is very important for us. People with specific requirements for safety and security don’t want to be seen; they don’t want to show that they are cruising in a bulletproof car. I can tell you from my own experience even if those vehicles are roughly double the weight of an average car because of the protection level, they drive like a normal car, and everything else is basically the same.
Are the bulletproof cars made-to-order? Or the factory produces some in case of urgent requirements?
We have some cars in stock, in case a customer has an immediate need for protection. We need to serve this purpose so I have a team that takes care of not only sales but also after sales; we have it all under one roof, which have a very specific customer service. However, some customers might have special requests and can afford to wait, then obviously we customise the cars to their needs, the team often works on entire fleets, and it can take up to six months to deliver.
What are your thoughts on the rise of electric cars?
Our commitment to electric cars and electric fixation in the car is evident and even from Maybach. You can see that Vision 6 Roadster is for a good reason an electric car. We believe that we need to listen to our customer’s needs. Currently, in luxury cars, the customers have an extremely high need for a lot of systems and support in the car, options that underline the luxury of massage seats to heat to the arm panels. There’s a lot of electricity consumed in the car, and our customers have a specific range requirement. Currently, all of those elements in a fully electric car have not been realized yet. And this is why we are listening to the customer’s needs. We will gradually take it in a direction where we can satisfy all of the requirements ideally.