That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore

Last week’s Beijing takeaway has led to an unpleasant case of indigestion, courtesy of our friends at Baden-Wüttermberg. 

Paint a vulgar picture. Mercedes-Maybach Ultimate Luxury concept. Image credit: Hypebeast

“We have a social responsibility. Somebody has to stop this nonsense.” These were the words of BMW’s Hans-Peter Weisbarth, spoken in 1989 in the context of the horsepower race that was consuming the German car industry at the time. One I might add, which shows no sign of abatement some thirty years later.

But today, they also lend themselves to a different race to the bottom which seems to hold the motor industry in a vice-like grip. Much has already been said (on these pages and elsewhere) about the increasing uglification and visual aggression of modern car design, but last week’s Beijing Motor Show has opened a new and disturbing front in the vulgarity wars, one which suggests a rapidly approaching watershed.

It’s therefore perhaps appropriate this harbinger should emanate from the studios of Daimler AG Chief Design Officer, and believer in beauty and intelligence, Gorden Wagener. With no trace of irony or embarrassment, but a hefty dollop of tautology, the stable genius of Sindelfingen heralded the Vision Mercedes-Maybach Ultimate Luxury’s show debut, lauding it as “a totally new archetype of kind never seen before.”

Please indulge me here, because Daimler’s CDO truly has a unique way with words. “With sensuality and pure sophistication”, Mr. Wagener continued, “we have created a timeless vehicle that underscores the position of Mercedes-Maybach as the ultimate luxury brand.” The only great unknown it would seem is where exactly the Vision Mercedes-Maybach Ultimate Luxury lies on the all-important Hot and Cool spectrum, upon which nostrum, the blessed one has remained frustratingly silent.

His blessedness, last week. Image credit: Autoevolution

While the question of how many people’s idea of ultimate luxury the united perfection of an Allegro Vanden Plas and a jacked-up Mazda 121 actually represents is one we might choose to leave for another time, what we can say without too much ado is that the Vision Mercedes-Maybach Ultimate Luxury is in visual terms both unintentionally and unabashedly hilarious.

But once the hysterical laughter subsides, one soon realises it isn’t much of a laughing matter. Because this isn’t the result of work of some jumped-up Chinese-market pantry boy who doesn’t know his place, and while we should probably be inured by now to the assaults upon form, surface and taste that characterise the Sensual Puritan of Stuttgart-Untertürkheim, this latest concept raises some unsettling questions.

What ultimate luxury looks like. Image credit: media.Daimler

We are rapidly losing the argument for unmonitored, user-managed personal mobility. A combination of external factors; environmental, commercial and technological, combined with a growing distaste from the driving public for an industry which has not only proved conniving but untrustworthy, is leading to a dangerous vacuum where nobody is making an intelligent case for the motor car as we know it.

What has the Maybach concept got to do with this, you ask? Plenty. Because in all its lurid vainglory it represents the latest, perhaps sharpest yet, nail in its coffin.

It’s no use trying to justify this sordid confection on the basis that it’s aimed specifically at Chinese tastes. That’s simplistic and patronising. It’s targeted at a rarefied (if growing) market where mindless consumption, preferably of the scarce or endangered variety is viewed not only as a positive virtue but a divine right – and one not expressly confined to East Asian command economies. These are deeply insecure vehicles aimed squarely at the deeply insecure, a perfect feedback loop in a World seemingly gone stark raving nuts.

From the frankly ludicrous exterior with its desperate aura of delusional self-importance, the chintz-palace cabin with its unicorn hair stitching, child-mined rose gold appliqué, magic wood and duck’s tears, you have the perfect vehicle for today’s tin pot plutocrat – preferably one with the requisite pair of tiny hands.

The dentist will see you now madam. Image credit: Wired

Today’s Dieter Zetsche-helmed Daimler has become so untethered from its past values that it has ceased to be anything one could recognise, let alone admire. But even if it has become the ne plus ultra of everything that’s wrong with today’s motor business, Mercedes are not alone. The entire German industry appears to have fallen into the same decadent spiral – one eerily akin to that of Detroit’s Big Three during the immediate pre-oil crisis period when it appeared as though the bonanza would never end.

One of course could (cogently) argue that in Mr. Wagener we are dealing with a mediocre talent promoted well beyond his capabilities, who having fortuitously attained commercial (and critical) success, not only appears to have bought into his own deluded sense of omnipotence, but has successfully convinced a credulous and apparently visually illiterate Daimler board of it as well.

Image credit: Diariomotor

But it’s pointless blaming the child, even if he’s had too much fizzy-pop. It’s the adults in the room who ought to know better. Irrelevant too against the wider issue of where all this is leading, because where it’s likely to lead is to proscription. In 2009, BMW’s Hans-Peter Weisbarth spoke of social responsibility, a quality today’s generation of motor business leaders appear to have lost sight of in an adrenaline-fuelled dash towards the cliff-edge. Certainly we look to them for leadership or any sense of restraint or decorum in vain.

Who will stop this madness? On current form it seems unlikely to be the German industry, who are failing not simply those of us who still hold the motor car dear, but ultimately the very industry they serve. History is unlikely to judge them kindly.

©Driven to Write. All rights reserved.

More on Gorden Wagener here

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

32 thoughts on “That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore”

  1. So they took the atrocious two door Suzuki X90 thing and added two more doors. 🙈 You have cruel sense of humour Mercedes.

  2. I was wondering when we will see the first cross between a sedan and a SUV (second if you count the Suzuki X90…. The size of these wheels is just a joke

  3. The very apotheosis of crassness and vulgarity. That this unspeakably grotesque creation issued forth at the behest of the man who is the heir to Bruno Sacco simply defies belief.

    1. I have to commend Keith for his use of the word “apotheosis”.
      Having turned first to comments, I only saw last that this was a Maybach. Perhaps my view will alter later. Right now I can´t call it terrible. From the back it looks quite pleasing and with a different grille could be a plausible car from another marque. It is a simple and plain shape with a satisfying old-fashioned feel to it. The interior is simple and if the flouncy detailing was removed it easily satisfies my wish for a less-is-more driver´s area. The tablet-type displays should be integated into the frame that it juts out from. I am not sure why the didn´t do that. Will anyone else agree with this or am I out on my own?

  4. That grille! That photo of the rear cabin! Liberace would have loved it.

    Responding to Richard’s comments, I can see what that you are getting at. If the car was conceived as ‘just’ a saloon and so had a lowered stance, did without the somewhat bloated proportions, dumped the split rear screen (what’s that all about?) and had been given a less gauche grille, it would probably be quite appealing. Having re-read that, I could come across as trying to be ironic; I’m not, I’m seeking to see the car from a more positive starting point.

  5. I don’t mind it. Even thoughI was shocked about the design when I first laid my eyes on it.
    Presently Mercedes is launching cars at record rates, I’ll admit that I’am in awe of the sheer number of different models they can launch in such a short space of time. It’s an all out assault.
    Sure quantity doesn’t equate quality but for the car design lover that I’am having this sheer number of design options is just a plus. If I find one model ugly I don’t want necessarily wants it off the face of the earth, if somebody else likes it, who am I to dictate what good taste should be ?

    But then again I noticed that I’am in general a lot less critical about car design compared to the general public (or DTW!). I think I view car design as personal entertainment and if an usual and odd proposition comes along, as is the case here, I’am usually grateful for it to exist in the first place because “plus on est de fous, plus on rit.”

    Also there is the argument that some cars come on their own a few years later. I wouldn’t be surprised if the DTW writers of 2040 will sing the praises of this car for its period charm and radical re thinking of the luxury saloon back in 2018.

    1. ‘Also there is the argument that some cars come on their own a few years later. I wouldn’t be surprised if the DTW writers of 2040 will sing the praises of this car for its period charm and radical re thinking of the luxury saloon back in 2018.’

      I only see the possibility if the Maybach turns into a curious oddity à la aforementioned Mohs Ostentatienne Opera Sedan. If this becomes some kind of trendsetter à la BMW X6, the Ultimate Luxury is more likely to become the focus of an extended essay lamenting the point by which the automobile outstayed its welcome.

    2. Hi Kris. I think the Ostentatienne is on a league of its own and as much as the Maybach is controversial it does not attain the levels of “ridiculousness” of Moh’s creation.
      After all, behind its unusual appearance, the Maybach is still very much a conventional car underneath it all: no cantilevered roof entrance or other follies here. I think with the Maybach it’s just the style that is controversial while with Moh’s car it’s his whole concept of what a car should be that intrigue and disturb.

  6. In short I don’t think every single car has to adhere to a restrictive notion of beauty. Even a Maybach. I don’t necessarily view it as a style crime if a design goes for Originality rather than Beauty.

    1. And I don’t mind the Fiat Multipla for that reason. But a whiff of either (common) sense or visual pleasure ought to be included in any automotive concept. In my insignificant opinion.

  7. Great piece Mr Doyle.

    You’ve skewered the car industry here and I agree with every word. Unfortunately it’s not only the Germans who are at it – gross and misplaced design is everywhere. We live in a world where New York City turns to the Cadillac Escalade as a plausible ‘premium’ private hire vehicle.

    This Maybach is gross and fails on so many levels. Also, riddle me this… after the expensive failed experiment of the Maybach 57 and 62, the badge was down graded to a trim level, as in Mercedes-Maybach. Why on earth are they trying to pretend otherwise?

  8. I think this monstrosity is inevitable. The off road style of vehicles such as Range Rovers has been so popular with monetarily rich people that a luxury saloon with the commanding seating position and perceived benefits of SUV’s has a certain logic to it, especially in more culturally conservative markets. It’s only a temporary phenomenon and will soon be swept into irrelevance as the personal transportation sector changes beyond all recognition or climate change brings an end to human life on Earth, so cheer up.

    1. “a luxury saloon with the commanding seating position and perceived benefits of SUV’s has a certain logic to it”
      So what happens when the quest for this one up-manship becomes common? Most cars from the beginning of motoring were tall while low sports models were envied for looks and handling , will the low car eventually return as a favoured choice or just disappear into motoring history? We are witnessing interesting changes some driven by illogical buyer desires reflected in the adoption of SUVs , evolution towards electric, autonomous transport and overcrowding plus increasingly tougher environmental standards .
      I view the SUV ( tall vehicle) craze as a mere temporary distraction, a last shot before the proverbial shit hits the fan in the industries remake in the coming years when they will truly move into the 21st century.

    1. They do not educate cars, or they do not educate people? Either way, I’m at a loss.

  9. I fear that we have not hit rock-bottom yet.
    The fact that this huge nail in the coffin of automotive design somehow escaped from the confines of the asylum it was created in hardly surprises me.
    Critical acclaim has a way of swelling heads. I am therefore it will be.
    Baroque belongs to Benz at the moment.
    When a marque is struggling odd things can happen too. Dare I mention the DS X E-Tense? At least this thing didn’t get a full concept car budget and for now at least remains a virtual entity.
    Bertoni must be up to rod-throwing revolutions in his coffin with this parody taking his creation’s name in vain.
    Champions of originality at whatever cost to reputation will no doubt think me passé, clinging on to the idea that cars should aspire to elegance. Originality seems to be the Emperor’s latest bespoke suit.
    Micro brands such as DS will come and go, having foisted their questionable taste on an uninterested audience. Mainstream brands will wither and be consumed by those more financially endowed and badge engineering will flourish once more.
    The Uber Auto Geschellschaft Von Deutschland will continue to thrive for some time yet. They did, after all, start it…

  10. I can see I am in the minority here then. To be clear, I don´t think it´s awful and I must be candid and admit I missed the split rear screen. That is daft and a retro step too far. That said, I really can´t see why this is more horrible than a BMW GT5 (which isn´t all that horrible really). Why is a a raised height saloon all that strange? By and large the estate character of an SUV is probably wasted. Posh people are not supposed to need the space and are supposed to wither and die when exposed to the fresh air of an open tailgate anyway. While the world doesn´t need this car it´s a worthwhile excercise in exploring a niche. By the way, it belongs to a class of two, the equally strange Lagonda concept of a while back. Is this more or less bad than that? I´d far rather see something novel and odd than another SUV concept.

    1. At some point I am going to have to regain my street cred by finding a decent design to showcase. I don´t want be remembered as the guy who didn´t hate the “Ultimate Luxury” car. Incidentally, I confine my comments to the geometry not the name which is demonstrably thick because they will do another luxury car in the future so this is not in any sense the “ultimate” anything. Blame popular usage for “ultimate” being devalued. “It´s really ultimate, man” is a regularly used phrase now. How was your Ferrari, Ben? “Ultimate”. How was your coffee? “Ultimate, man”.

  11. Its not so much the « luxury » tag that grates, more the sheer Scharnhorst-like girth of the thing.
    The whole « Chelsea Tractor » idea seems somewhat quaint with hindsight. The name was coined when SUV proportions were still restrained by comparison to the monsters prowling our streets today.
    I have heard the argument time and time again that the « dominating » driving position afforded to the insecure justifies the purchase of an SUV. The result has been that the exception has become the norm and to dominate requires ever larger vehicles. The « Sports Utility Vehicles » that started the the trend have arguably become « Stupid Useless Vehicles » that serve the anti-car lobby better than they serve their owners.
    Increased vehicle safety has led in part to the trend for ever larger vehicles. Social status is still reflected in what we drive. Hence an escalation of four wheeled appendages to suit ever more fragile egos.
    That luxury is coming back as a major force in the market is perhaps to be expected, given that the accepted norm of car ownership for the masses is a subject of debate. The car was, pre Henry Ford, reserved for the rich. Is this coming full circle?
    As the rivers of metal between where we live and where we work flow ever slower, the spectre of being legislated out of cars becomes more real. The rejection of the car represents a greater threat to continued car ownership.
    Our relationship with the car is changing. The car must change. The two ton behemoth is no longer socially acceptable. The latest « Ultimate » will become the foundation of an ultimatum.

    1. Looking to the wider context, the idea of luxury as lots more stuff must be at its limit. I agree the ever-taller, ever bigger car is now near reaching its boundary. My idea of luxury is not really luxurious at all. Many haven’t reached my state of Zen-like transcendence though (e.g. the ultra-rich, the quite poor). If Mercedes or anyone else tries my formula they’d nail it one go and anything else would be only marginally better. Which brings us to yesterday’s car: the Bristol which was nearly right from 1965 onwards. It still is. It’s perplexing Bristol couldn’t find the 150 customers they needed annually to survive when about 20,0000 people a year buy more expensive and grosser cars such as today’s vehicle.

  12. Having never heard of the Mohs before, had to look it up…
    Although the execution was flawed, there were some interesting ideas in it. Did you know the seats swiveled during turns, to keep bodies vertically ? they also swiveled fore-aft in case of emergency braking, to shift the major deceleration to the body vertical axle.

  13. Interesting that you mention the « B » word Richard. Other raves from the grave worthy of inclusion in the almost but not quite category are Alvis and Jensen.
    I would argue that the Interceptor with its Touring designed body got closer to that elusive ideal of an ideal combination of flash and class.
    The Graber bodied Alvis was quite close to ideal too, a generation earlier.
    Apathy killed Alvis, and Jensen learned too late that the effortless torque of seven litres of Detroit iron wouldn’t get them though an energy crisis.
    That Bristol had bodies by Touring and Zagato, and not forgetting that close cousin the Arnolt Bristol and Scaglione’s deft creation at Bertone, yet failed to survive despite having lasted longer than the others is perhaps due to a lack of imagination.
    The Bristol Fighter with its ten cylinders is an illustration of what I’m getting at.
    It’s that ultimate thing again. The idea that less could be more was sacrificed for more of everything. More cylinders, more overwrought styling.. gullwing doors..
    I always wondered if BMW would have been interested in a side project after the Healey family spurned their advances.
    The historical parallel of the BMW six in a tailored body is clear. Who could have clothed it? I would have gone with Pininfarina. BMW and Pininfarina were recently more convincing than BMW’s own studios too.

    1. DTW mentioned the Pininfarina BMW recently. They made a better fist of the concept than BMW: off-hand, I recall it had elegance. We can kick a lot of marques for their excessive expressiveness. Who is getting it right? Can they? The customers must like zigs and zags and godawful over-wrought interiors. I had a list of acceptable cars prepared here and I can’t recall what was on it. I’ll have to remind myself.

    2. I wrote about this and offered an Opel, a Buick, a Kia, a Toyota and a Touring as examples. The headline was “Can we really stand in silence”.

  14. Well, I’ll join the minority – I like it. It’s well proportioned, has nice exterior surfaces (the new, plainer / softer theme seems to work on a clean sheet design) and is less aggressively styled than some other recent new models of this type. Yes, the rear window’s a bit daft and the wheels are big – it’s a show car, after all. Ditto the interior – it’s flamboyant, but it’s meant to be. Given that this car was destined for the Beijing show, I don’t think that it’s patronizing to state that the interior, in particular, takes account of Chinese style / preferences.

    And they’re not the first company to make a splash with a white and gold theme:

    Assuming that it ever goes in to production, it’s safe to say that it’ll be toned down somewhat / tailored to its markets. It won’t sell in large numbers, so its overall relevance to the future of the car is limited.

    I’m generally pretty bored by SUVs / crossovers, etc. However, that sort of design is what’s fashionable and sells, and it makes sense to use something large if you’re going for an ‘ultimate in luxury’ theme.

  15. The front looks like an angry egg slicer. The back was styled through the Porsche Cayenne- shaped Playschool window. The interior is almost there; to some, luxury can be a nice cuppa in your pyjamas with a chocolate biscuit. Best add a wet-wipe dispenser, discreetly, mind.
    And I expect fleets of them to be found outside Liverpool or Arsenal football grounds as fast as they can make ‘em.
    Personally though, it’s a no.

  16. I think Richard is correct in his opinion here, as is Charles. It is a show car after all and it has its exaggerations as a result. The grille is terrible, but most of the car is reasonable enough- the majority of it is pretty ordinary really.

    Does anyone remember the Dodge Super 8 Hemi concept from the early 2000s? Did Chrysler ever manufacture those in series? Of course not, but that car did send a very public signal while also testing the waters… They got the feedback. Then look what they sent into production and what the result of that was (hint: 20 years of production).

    Show cars- some stunning, some good, some merely average and some just not quite so good at all. This one is blah- merely average, not really all that interesting. For goodness sake Eoin, don’t overthink it. What you are really worried about is not the result of crass, misguided or even careless styling and design.

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