BRABUS is better than Mercedes and that's a problem
The lads in the Aussie editorial team know too well that my day consists of getting up, hopping on our chat, and complaining about Mercedes.
I know, I know. I'm here today on my tribe, Engine Economics, complaining again about another manufacturer. It's not a new one either, because I've complained about Mercedes before today more than once. The reason that brand draws my ire so often though is that so often they over promise and under deliver. The bar in the luxury car sector and the performance car sector is high and Mercedes has done nothing since the SLR McLaren to stir my interest. In fact the polar opposite. They've been sticking to popularity and the status quo.
Granted, for a period of three years in the late 2010s that also made Mercedes the highest selling luxury automotive manufacturer on earth. But the chickens are rapidly coming back to roost. And that's reflected in where Mercedes' volume lies on their range.
Let's take the large SUV example. If you look at the Mercedes competitors, Audi and BMW, their cars, the Q7 and X5, have the bulk of their volume in models priced between $120,000AUD and $140,000AUD. Those cars sold in that price point are a sweet spot for profitability. Mercedes on the other hand with their competitor, the GLE, pools the bulk of their volume annually in the GLE300d and the 450 which are priced between $105,000AUD and $120,000AUD.
This doesn't change as you go through most models on the Mercedes range. For example, the best selling C class is the C200 or the C250 whereas with BMW's 3 Series it's the 330i. It's not a 1-year thing either, Mercedes have been like this for years and it's what's allowed the brand to take the number 1 best selling luxury automotive manufacturer spot. The truth is though, this isn't sustainable and it wasn't the Mercedes long term plan. The plan was to sell customers on a cheap vehicle and upsell them on vehicle number 2, that isn't happening.
Worse still it's made Mercedes become dreary and confusing. I've already touched on naming conventions previously so I won't go there today. But Mercedes vehicles as a whole are all looking pretty much identical today and they don't change or do anything really all that innovative. Land Rover had their dual touch screen and next-gen AWD off-roading computer, BMW have the fastest luxury performance vehicles in sector and Audi are packing their vehicles with special next generation science fiction tech including a slather of environmentally friendly vehicles ready for release.
Mercedes are known for being, well conservative. Mercedes owners only ever drive and own Mercedes and alike to a genetic disease they pass that on generation to generation. But whatever the Mercedes Passenger range's shortcomings may be, their parent company, Daimler AG, prop those profits up with the Mercedes Commercial division and a whole slather of other automotive investments. Daimler is doing so well in fact that most recently they bought Aston Martin. So it's highly likely they're going to continue doing exactly the same thing.
And that brings me to my problem. I saw a Mercedes the other day that I adored, but it wasn't really a Mercedes. It was a BRABUS. And not just any BRABUS but a BRABUS that they've aptly named "the Rocket". The BRABUS ROCKET 900 is essentially a highly tuned Mercedes AMG GT63S 4MATIC+ (golly gosh that was a mouthful. If you own one of those cars can you tell me in the comments section how you tell people that you own that car in a pub drunk?). But here's the thing, it looks nothing like the original car. Because it looks satanic, and it has the numbers to back up its looks.
What it basically means is that the engine BRABUS has put in this car has an increased capacity of 4.5 litres and puts out 900bhp. That's better than anything you can find at a bar on a Friday night. It means that the car goes from 0-100km/h in 2.8 seconds. Yes, this heavy, whopping great sedan goes 0-100km/h in the same amount of time as a Tesla Model X. Crazier still it reaches 300km/h in 23.9 seconds. Most automakers don't even talk about 300km/h let alone quote a time it'll make the sprint in.
The catch is the BRABUS 900 ROCKET is a part of BRABUS' highly exclusive MASTERPIECE label and only ten of them will ever exist. The tagline for the car is spine-tingling as a result "ONE OF TEN". And I gotta say, I know the price tag is going to be stupid but just looking at the car it's all worth it.
And that then brings me to my point. BRABUS is making a better car than a Mercedes with less personnel and less expertise. So why doesn't the AMG division of Mercedes do this? Why doesn't AMG make Mercedes that stupid brand that does amazingly stupid things for world records no-one cars about and no-one has ever attempted.
There was a fantastic line in the Ford V Ferrari movie which was released last year and starred Matt Damon and Christian Bale and it's stuck with me as a marketer. It was a line said by a senior VP, marketing of the Ford Motor Company known as Lee Iacocca (played by Jon Bernthal) while claiming that Ford had grown stale during it's 1950/60s run of boring family vehicles. He said, "James Bond does not drive a Ford". What follows is Henry Ford II mocking Iacocca by calling Bond a degenerate.
The principal of that quote though is pointing out that dreary cars do not draw attention. Dreary cars get ignored. Cars which work better as parking barriers than that as a weapon do not sell other cars. And while no-one else in market is really doing this nowadays, why can't Mercedes be the brand that does do it? Why can't they be the ones who make completely radical cars with wide bodies that makes it truly cool to drive a Mercedes again? Because right now, it is not cool to drive a Mercedes. No-one cares if you drive a Mercedes.
So if you're a Mercedes product planner who is reading this article, for starters feel free to head down to the dog house and give me a good ripping for everything I've said today. But once you've had a good crack at me. Pick up your phone, call your friends at BRABUS and figure out all the things they're doing right so you can do them first. Get on the front foot and watch your competitors at BMW M and Audi RS turn in their sleep thinking about the new AMG range which is faster and much better looking than anything they can come up with. That is the opportunity, and trust me, it's an opportunity you should take.