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Mercedes-Benz Goes Into Overdrive - The Big Picture

Motor Trend logo Motor Trend 11/18/2014 Angus MacKenzie
Mercedes-Benz Goes Into Overdrive - The Big Picture

If there's a niche, fill it. And if there isn't a niche, create a new one. That's the mantra at Mercedes-Benz these days. Thirty years ago Mercedes' entire lineup -- 190E, E-Class, S-Class, SEC, SL, G-Wagen -- would have fit in a modest showroom. Today you'd need one of those giant faux-marble garaj mahals beloved of auto-alley mavens to house the 15 models now carrying the three-pointed star.

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And more are coming.

Daimler AG will launch no fewer than 11 all-new Mercedes models -- vehicles that currently have no counterpart in the existing lineup, says Mercedes-Benz sales and marketing chief Ola Källenius -- by 2020. And existing model families will be expanded: The recently launched S-Class plug-in hybrid (pictured below) is the first of 10 plug-in hybrid-powered Mercedes vehicles to be launched over the next three years. The next-gen GLK and M-Class SUV families will grow to include sporty, coupe-like variants to compete with BMW's X6 and X4.

2015 Mercedes Benz S550 Plug In Hybrid In Motion Front View© Provided by MotorTrend 2015 Mercedes Benz S550 Plug In Hybrid In Motion Front View The new Mercedes-AMG GT, Daimler's 911-fighter, will evolve into a model range aimed at the heart of Porsche's iconic sports car. Expect GT and GT S convertibles, a track-focused version to take on the 911 GT3, and an ultra-high-performance model, possibly with all-wheel drive, to challenge the 911 Turbo. There are even whispers the GT platform could be stretched to create a four-door coupe to compete with Porsche's Panamera.

The XXL S-Class launched at the L.A. show and badged Mercedes-Maybach will be joined this year by an even larger version: The Mercedes-Maybach Pullman will be almost 3 feet longer than the regular long wheelbase S-Class, hand-built by German tuner Brabus with a base price rumored to be around $600,000.

2016 Mercedes Maybach S600 Rear Driver Window© Provided by MotorTrend 2016 Mercedes Maybach S600 Rear Driver Window The three-pointed star is also expanding into segments that were once the heartland of mainstream automakers such as GM and Ford. About 75 percent of buyers of the entry-level CLA sedan, which costs about the same as a well-equipped Ford Fusion, are first-time Mercedes buyers, for example. (Audi's claiming an almost identical percentage of conquest sales in the U.S. for the new A3 sedan. Numbers like these should be cause for concern at Chevy and Ford. Toyota and Honda, too.)

The three-pointed star is also expanding into segments that were once the heartland of mainstream automakers such as GM and Ford.

Despite the success of compact vehicles such as the CLA sedan and GLA SUV, Daimler has no intention of chasing mainstream automakers into smaller vehicle segments with Mercedes. That's a job for Smart, which recently revealed an all-new Forfour four-door, built on a new rear-engine, rear-drive platform shared with Renault's Twingo city car. "We have no plans to go below A-Class," Källenius says. "We have no [Fiesta-sized] car planned with the three-pointed star on it."

2016 Mercedes Maybach S600 Front Driver Profile 1© Provided by MotorTrend 2016 Mercedes Maybach S600 Front Driver Profile 1

You won't see the three-pointed star on a mid-engine supercar, either. A mid-engine Mercedes-Benz rival to the Porsche 918, McLaren P1, and LaFerrari hybrid hypercars seems a no-brainer, especially given Daimler's expensive investment in Formula 1 hybrid technology. But senior Daimler sources categorically rule out the idea: "We will never build a mid-engine car," vows one. That leaves two alternative scenarios: Daimler develops a brand-new front-engine Mercedes-AMG hypercar with all-wheel drive and an advanced 700-900-hp hybrid powertrain. Or it buys Aston Martin.

Daimler already has a deal in place to supply engines to the storied British sports car maker, which badly needs a wealthy patron. And newly minted Aston CEO Andy Palmer, Nissan's former product chief, enjoys deep relationships with Stuttgart thanks to his oversight of various Daimler/Renault-Nissan alliance projects. (The next-gen Mercedes A-Class will come off a platform jointly developed by the alliance partners.)

Daimler could afford to keep Aston Martin very exclusive, using it to blunt both Bentley and Ferrari (and not just with sports cars; an Aston Martin Lagonda sedan could take on the Bentley Flying Spur and Ferrari FF) while Mercedes-Maybach concentrates on attacking Rolls-Royce and Mercedes-AMG goes after Porsche. A mid-engine Aston Martin supercar? Why not? The idea was floated more than a decade ago. Jaguar design chief Ian Callum, the man who penned the gorgeous DB7, DB9, and Vanquish while at Aston, still has the drawings...

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