Story time: Back in the ’70s, a car was made by a small company in a German barn that took the European racing world by storm. Two engineers had taken a full-size Mercedes sedan, stuffed the biggest V8 they could find into it, named it the Red Pig, and ran it against some of the most competitive racers in the world. Long story short, it won.
By the ’80s, it had a partnership with Mercedes, and for a hefty fee, it would drop one of its hand-built engines into your run-of-the-mill E-Class sedan and create The Hammer, 190 mile per hour supercar that could eat Lamborghinis for breakfast, and still carry you and four clients to your next meeting in comfort.
Of course, the small company was AMG, and its now been completely owned by Mercedes for 17 years. It’s the chief rival to BMW’s legendary M-Division, and the ones responsible for ultra-exclusive near-supercars as varied as the Mercedes-AMG GT S (the Porsche-killer), the E 63 S (the devil’s station wagon), and the G65 (the 38 year old ex-army truck with the 630 horsepower V12). Like their predecessors, these cars are all made under the close watch of AMG engineers, all with hand-built engines crafted in surgically clean factories, produce an ungodly amount of power, and never sell for less than six figures.
But as you may have noticed, AMG’s fingerprints have begun to show up all over other Mercedes models over the past few years, and frankly, that’s great. For decades, the mad men of Affalterbach have taken all comers on an individual basis, from the iconic 300SL to the ’80s era S-Class coupe. Besides, there’s nothing wrong with having a tighter, quicker, more focused version of any model. But here’s the caveat: Don’t do it at the expense of your credibility.
Speaking with Automotive News this week, Tobias Moers, the chairman of Mercedes-AMG, said that the company sold 68,875 AMG-badged cars last year – a 40% increase over 2014 sales. Because of that, AMG will be introducing “at least” 10 new AMG models by the end of 2016, bring the total up to 48. That’s right, come January 2017, Mercedes-Benz will be offering 48 AMG-badged models. Yikes.
It’s a basic law of economics: If you flood the market with something, you’re going to devalue it. For decades – even before Mercedes had a stake in the company – AMG cars were part of the company’s mystique. There was a way to transform your stately Teutonic luxury car into a hitman in a bespoke suit. But goofy suburban crossovers and SUVs with aero bits and big horsepower like the GLA 45, or GLS 63 (“the road-rage connoisseur’s full-size SUV of choice on eastern Long Island”) aren’t going to win over any converts; if anything, they’ll only cheapen the AMG name.
Before this turns into an angry “get off my lawn” rant, let us offer a solution: Don’t call these cars AMGs. “Well,” you could say, “AMG is already an established and profitable performance brand. Why wouldn’t Mercedes capitalize on such a valuable asset?” Excellent question! We think it should, but with a degree of separation.
Take Lexus, BMW, and Cadillac. Lexus has its world-class RS F, and IS F. It sells other models in go-fast trim (six of them to be exact), but they’re called F-Sports. It lets the F cars be the halo models, and gives people who want something with a little more excitement on their commute an option too. Ditto with BMW’s iconic M- Division. The street-legal track rats still get the big M out front (M2, M3, M4, M5, etc.), but the people who really just want the blue/purple/red badges can buy M-Sport models (though those lines are unfortunately beginning to blur too.). Cadillac has its insane BMW-slaying ATS-V and CTS-V. But if grandpa wants a little zip for his Caddy in Florida? He can still buy the front-drive XTS in V-Sport trim.
AMG began life as a tuner, so why not give the mass-market cars a badge that say “Tuned by AMG,” or “AMG–Sport?” Consumers are gobbling up luxury cars like never before, and more often than not, they want the badge for its air of danger and exclusivity. They’ve never gone to Cars and Coffee, they don’t care that AMG-built engines are assigned a single technician to hand-assemble each one, and they certainly aren’t going to go anywhere near Mercedes’s famous 155 electronically-limited top end. Mercedes should give the people what they want: A badge. Don’t turn one of the most storied performance marques in automotive history into an options package.