With the venerable G-Class SUV approaching the end of the road, Mercedes-Benz finds itself in need of a competitor to the ultra-luxe Bentley Bentayga and Rolls-Royce Cullinan SUVs. Nothing says luxury quite like Maybach, and so Merc will build a Maybach GLS. The ultra-luxury Maybach SUV will be built alongside the standard full-size GLS at Benz’s Alabama facility outside of Tuscaloosa. With a list price of about $200,000, it almost certainly will be the most expensive vehicle built in the United States.
After briefly offering Maybach models as standalone luxury vehicles, Mercedes now uses the Maybach name as the ultra-elite trim level on its most luxurious models, much like AMG represents its highest-performance vehicles.
Dietmar Exler, CEO of Mercedes-Benz USA, told Automotive News the Maybach GLS is a “halo” car representing the pinnacle of luxury, and the name will appear on other models. "We'll logically extend [the Maybach brand] where it makes sense," Exler said. "I cannot imagine you will have a Maybach A class. But on the top luxury cars, to have the luxury edition makes a whole lot of sense for us."
Slapping the Maybach label on an SUV makes a lot of sense because the passenger vehicle market has shifted from sedans to crossovers and SUVs, especially among the affluent. "Luxury SUVs are taking off," analyst Tim Urquhart of IHS Markit told Automotive News. "It's what a big section of the market wants."
Ed Kim, automotive analyst at AutoPacific, agreed. "The ultra-high-net-worth kids want something different, and these ultra-luxury SUVs certainly fit that.”
AutoForecast Solutions predicts that the worldwide market for such elite-tier SUVs will grow from 7500 units sold in 2018 to more than 20,000 by 2023. Small wonder that companies like Ferrari and Aston Martin are planning super-luxe behemoths to compete with those from Lamborghini, Bentley, and Rolls-Royce. Such vehicles can be highly profitable, particularly when based on existing platforms that keep development costs relatively low.
Mercedes-Benz introduced the Vision Mercedes-Maybach Ultimate Luxury sport utility vehicle last year at the Beijing auto show. About 75 percent of ultra-luxury SUVs are sold in the United States and China, and the new Maybach likely will debut in China, with American sales to follow. With a rear passenger compartment described as “loungelike,” the Chinese market, where luxury car owners prefer to be chauffeur driven, is obviously a key target.
The Maybach SUV won't be built in China, however, due to tariffs and logistics. Mercedes already builds the GLS, GLE, and GLE Coupe at its 6,000,000-square-foot factory in Vance, Alabama, which has the capacity to build more than 300,000 vehicles annually. It makes more sense to build a couple thousand Maybach SUVs there.