The strange, tea set-equipped SUV/sedan mashup that is the Vision Mercedes-Maybach Ultimate Luxury concept, which just made its official debut in Beijing, is certainly something to behold. It’s shocking, and to our eyes more than a little grotesque. Or maybe it’s just the kind of thing you have to have gobs and gobs of money in offshore accounts, and the impeccable taste that comes with all that, to truly appreciate it.
But take a step back and let the shock and outrage subside and consider what it’s trying to do. There are parts of it that no doubt preview design or technological elements that are production-bound, parts of it that are totally wild-ass flights of fancy and parts of it that are simply there to help define what Maybach is all about.
In other words, it’s a concept car, and Beijing was the right place to reveal it.
Consider: The vehicle, which we will refer to as the MMUL for brevity, is motivated by four permanent-magnet synchronous motors (we’ll call it E-4Matic) supplying 750 hp in total. Range is “over 200 miles” thanks to an 80 kWh battery mounted under the floor.
This isn’t the first Vision Mercedes-Maybach concept to come with an electric powertrain. As of now, all Maybachs are powered by internal combustion, but Mercedes is planning to roll out a luxurious flagship for its EQ electric line of vehicles by 2020. Associating the technology with the ultra-luxury segment via these outrageous concepts is one way to help sell it to an audience that doesn’t care so much about frugality or eco-consciousness.
Plus, China is pushing hard to move its driving population into so-called “new energy vehicles,” offering subsidies and other benefits to electric car-buyers. In Beijing in particular, internal combustion-powered cars are banned from entering the city one day per week; electric cars face no such restrictions. So there’s a convenience factor there as well.
Then there’s the vehicle’s interior configuration; the second row is definitely the place to be in the MMUL. The addition of a built-in tea tray and tea set might be a little on the nose, but it’s no secret that wealthier Chinese tend to be chauffeured — heck, Benz just introduced a stretched A-class in Beijing for that very reason.
Finally, SUVs and crossovers are hot in China right now, just as they are here in the United States. Combine that with the Chinese automotive market’s potential for continued explosive growth, and a growing upper class, and automakers have a very compelling reason to take their big high-riding vehicles (at 207 inches long, 70 inches tall and 83 inches wide, the MMUL is about 5 inches shorter by length and about 3 inches shorter by height than the GLS, but it’s substantially wider) way, way upmarket.
The Bentley Bentayga, Rolls-Royce Cullinan and whatever sort of SUV Maybach ends up building will compete for a niche, sure, but that niche is big (and growing bigger) due to the enormous size of the Chinese market.
All in all, and aesthetics aside, we’d say the MMUL served its purpose as a concept car admirably. It grabs us by the shoulders and shakes us vigorously until it has our attention, then outlines a number of elements — an electric powertrain suitable for the luxury market, an over-the-top rear-sear experience and that increasingly important SUV ride height and all-around presence — that are relevant to Maybach as a brand and to the Chinese market specifically.
We wouldn’t be surprised if we saw all of these elements in production in the near future (though not necessarily all on one vehicle). And, having made a splash with this beast, Maybach can now move ahead with a more conventional ultra-luxury SUV, perhaps one that more closely resembles the GLS.