Everything you wanted to know about the stars. Straight from the stars themselves. You ask. They answer. That is the gist of Mercedes Dialogues. These stars range from F1 driver Nico Roseberg to executive vice president of sales and marketing for Mercedes-Benz Cars, Ola Kallenius, to tennis champion Boris Becker. Mercedes Dialogues gives you a chance to ask these stars anything and everything. This initiative was formerly known as the MB Connect. The latest episode of Mercedes Dialogues puts Mark Spitzner, director of branding, marketing and sales of Mercedes-AMG on the hot seat. Moderating the questions was Eberhard Kern, the managing director and CEO, Mercedes-Benz.
This episode of Mercedes Dialogues held on May 15 in Delhi against the background of the inauguration of Mercedes AMG Performance Centres in Delhi, Bangalore and Mumbai. Eberhard Kern also took this opportunity to announce the launch of the ML 63 AMG in India at Rs1.49 crore (ex-showroom, Delhi). He also announced that apart from the six AMG cars that we have already today - the C 63, E 63, G 63, SLK 55, GL 63 and the ML 63 - you will see some more models quite soon. So that’s some great news for car enthusiasts in India.
Mario Spitzner, an expert on high performance cars, took questions from enthusiasts from all across the country. And gave them a behind the scenes look at one of the most powerful automobile brands in the world.
Following are the transcripts of some of the questions and answers.
You ask. Mark Spitzner answers.
What does AMG stand for?
It’s actually two names and one little town. AMG was started by two former Mercedes engineers Hans Werner Aufrecht and Erhard Melcher. The A and M stands for their names, Aufrecht and Melcher. The G stand for Großaspach. That's the place where the two started. It’s also the town where Hans Werner Aufrecht was born. Großaspach is the cradle of AMG. So AMG stands for Aufrecht Melcher Großaspach.
Can you please tell us about the philosophy behind 'one man one engine'?
'One man one engine' means that an AMG engine is completely handcrafted. That means one of our master technicians – we have over 60 at AMG in Affalterbach in Germany – built the engine completely by hand. It's unique in the industry. The technician actually signs his masterpiece. The engine plate has his signature on it. It’s such a successful thing that we have customers who come to AMG wanting to get to know their engine builder. So, it’s not just great process but a lot of quality within the process. It’s also something that works for the brand, so AMG is synonymous with 'one man one engine'.
Can you tell us how long it takes for one technician to make an AMG engine?
Well, that depends on the type of engine. If it’s naturally aspirated, it could take between two to three hours. If it’s a special engine like the V12 bi-turbo, it could go up to five to six hours.
Do you have an exclusive AMG owners club?
Yes, actually we do. It’s a web-based community called AMG Private Lounge. It’s a global community where AMG customers can mingle with each other and share their experiences. They also have their own events. We also organise signature events for the AMG Private Lounge members.
But the most important thing is that you need to own an AMG to be a part of this club. You need to punch in your VIN number in order to join this exclusive club. We urge all AMG customers to become a connective part of the private lounge.
I heard that the beautiful SLS AMG has been discontinued? Is it only in India? And is there a facelift being planned?
Yes, it’s true. Production is coming to an end. It’s not just for India, it’s worldwide. You might be wondering why. The SLS AMG is an icon and obviously, you don’t produce icons forever. It took about 50 years from the original Gullwing to build the SLS with the next Gullwing. Maybe it might not take another 50 years for us to come up with the next Gullwing, but for the next few years, for sure, there will be no successor. But there will be a great and powerful surprise coming very soon.
What is the best AMG model in the world?
Well, I think the answer depends on the customer. I can tell you a lot of people think the G63 is the best AMG. It’s, for sure, the cult AMG, but then there are other people who swear on their C63. It really depends on the customer. Right now, I’m driving an E63 S model. I love it. So right now, for me, that’s the one.
What is one thing that attracts customers to AMG cars?
Hopefully, a lot of things. But we know for sure at least 25-30 percent of all AMG customers buy an AMG because of the sound. AMGs are known for this dynamic sound, that growl, that makes the AMG. AMGs are known for being very fast cars with the highest torque in class. We also have a lot of horsepower that comes with it. But most important is that even when you drive your AMG on a racetrack, you’re not stressed at all. Or if you are driving at high speeds on the Autobahn, only according to the legal speed limits, you’re never stressed with an AMG. It’s engineered for speeds of over 300kph. So, it's the whole package that you get with the AMG; it’s the sound, it’s the power, it’s the stress-free driving experience and it's the feeling that the engine never has to work hard. So, it’s this full package that you get. So, it’s not just one thing that attracts the customers. It’s a full array of virtues. It’s the package.
How do you always manage to keep AMG engines one step ahead of technology and innovation?
Well, as we said before, AMG mostly stands for the engine. That’s why 'one man one engine' has become so successful. AMG is investing more than ever in new technologies. Today, AMG engines are the most efficient engines. We’ve got the most efficient V8 on this planet. It’s a V8 which is naturally aspirated with cylinder management in the SLK 55. So, it's not only horse power, you also have to be very efficient. Being efficient means efficient fuel consumption. It’s the technology that drives AMG which also means high investments. We do so since we want to stay ahead. And that’s also why every AMG engine has won the performance engine of the year award. And I guess we’re the only brand on the planet that has come that far.
I’m really interested in the G-series, particularly the G 63 AMG 6x6. What was the idea behind making that monster? Is it being used by the army?
Now that’s a real special AMG. The 6x6 the Australian army uses is actually not an AMG version. It's a real bad terrain kind of beast and is basically unstoppable. So, two years ago, the idea came up to make a very special G 63. And that’s what we basically did. So it’s the most exclusive G63 you can buy. It’s a hell lot of fun. There are great videos on the net, you can check out on YouTube.
With great power comes responsibility. In this case, it’s safety. What’s your say on this?
Well that’s an easy one because AMG is a performance brand of Mercedes-Benz. So, what you get when you buy an AMG Mercedes is Mercedes technology and safety standards. Plus, the virtues AMG stands for, like sports car performance and exclusivity. So, an AMG usually has the largest safety package features that you can get.
How challenging is it making an AMG keeping in mind the discerning nature of a high-end customer?
Now, first of all our engineers, and we have a lot of engineers in Affalterbach, challenge themselves. They want to go one step further than whatever is in the market. So, it’s our own drive to come out with the best product. A product with high-end perfection. That means again you have to invest a lot of money in technology which we are doing. We also use Mercedes-Benz as our lab to come up with things. We also have a lot of feedback from our customers that drive all kinds of cars, even super sports cars. So we get constant feedback.
In the ’80s, customers were allowed to customise their AMG that they could call their personalised AMGs. Do you still provide that option? If not, are there any plans to provide it in future?
Well, we still do it. It’s called the AMG Performance Studio in Affalterbach. That’s why we are also sitting here, Eberhard and myself, because we’ve just opened the first AMG Performance Centre in India in Delhi. And that's exactly what you can do here. These people here are highly trained by AMG in Affalterbach. If you want to have a special paint or some special stitching or even a crest in the head rest, we can do it. So, just come along to this Performance Studio or the new ones coming up in Bangalore and Mumbai. It’s a growing brand and that’s what AMG really specialises in. There are actually no limits as long as it’s technically feasible and doesn’t infringe with Mercedes-Benz regulations safety or quality standards.
Which car do you drive and which is your favourite AMG car?
Okay, I said it before. It’s the E 63 S model 4-matic. It’s unreal. It does 0 to 100kph in 3.6 seconds, so it’s basically a cruise missile with 5 seats. It is my favourite rig now but I know my future favourite is close by. I will be announcing my new favourite car very soon.
With the ever increasing fuel prices here in India as well, do you see AMG doing great?
Yes, we do, because AMG again means efficient engines. Of course a 500 or 600 horsepower engine uses more gasoline than a 1-litre or a 100 horsepower car. If you look at the CLA 45 AMG that was showcased at the Delhi Auto Expo, you can get around 6-7 litres per 100km. So, these cars are way more efficient than you would think, and way more efficient, sometimes more than even some mid-sized cars. In that case, we do see a future here in India, plus you know you always have to bring down fuel consumption and that’s our continuous aim.
What changes has the AMG brand philosophy undergone since its inception and why?
In 1967, Aufrecht and Melcher, the A and M of AMG, decided to go racing. And so they started building these racing engines. At that time, they didn’t have in mind that it was going to be a business model, it was just their racing spirit. So, that's what they did for the first four years. In 1971, when they won Spa in its class second overall, it was actually in a four door S-class, which is pretty amazing. It was the fastest car on the whole field. Then suddenly, things changed, as Aufrecht realised there is some business potential behind this thing. Slowly, AMG became known as a performance brand. But it was very small, more into racing and everything else. The big change came when the discussion started with Mercedes-Benz, first in the DTM Racing series and when we signed the corporation agreement in 1990 in Paris as the performance badge of Mercedes-Benz. In the mean time, we’ve become the performance brand of Mercedes-Benz because we’re 100 percent owned by Mercedes-Benz. We build cars according to Mercedes-Benz standards. So, the brand has come a long way and there have been a lot of milestones. One was, of course, Spa. The other one was in ’86. The Hammer, which was a 124, was the first four-door sedan that went over 300kph and was the only car ever tested by Rodin Triech. The C 36, the first jointly developed car with Mercedes and AMG, is one of these brand heroes and of course, SL55. I could go on. Then the SLS, the Gullwing and of course, the new sports car that's coming. So the brand has come a long way from being the underdog to a brand that’s up to speed with all these pure brands that you have around.
How do you see AMG's car business growing in India and how many stores have you planned?
We believe in the Indian market and that’s why we’re here – it’s a very, very small niche but, in the end, AMG was always a niche brand, so we’re used to working with niches. But we also believe in the future, so what we have to do is make sure that we build the brand over here and we have a lot of enthusiasts already in India. As of today, we have six cars in our portfolio in India, we believe that India will be an important market for us. We want to grow with this market.
In India, we find a vast array of different roads at every turn. Do you think an AMG car's suspension will be able to handle such challenging terrains?
Of course, just looking at the G63, which is the toughest SUV on this planet, it takes anything you throw at it. That also holds true for the ML, so these are basically SUVs with sportscar performance figures. The ML 63 AMG that we just introduced takes 4.7 seconds to get to 100kph! You have to search long and hard to find cars that have this sort of performance. What's more, you can take these SUVs out to the countryside as well. We have about three SUVs out of six, but something else is coming soon. AMGs are really tough cars made for everyday suitability. I would say that you can even take a C 63 AMG off-road a little bit, but of course, not like the SUVs. These cars are fit for Indian streets.
Which AMG car is the fastest?
Well, this is going to come as a surprise to you because high speeds require super aerodynamics. We believe that the E 63 AMG is one of our fastest cars. The S model has 585 horses, that’s basically a super sports car, but the E has much better aerodynamics. The S is limited to 300kph, so when the limiter kicks in, it’s like you’re hitting a wall - you know they could do a lot more. A car like the E 63 AMG could easily go up to 340kph. So, it’s not only the super sports cars, there are some powerful sedans that could be very fast. There are a lot of AMGs, especially the sedans, that are pretty quick too. This means sedans are now on similar levels as Formula One cars!
Which year would you consider path breaking for AMG in the past decade and why?
Well, there have actually been a few as I said before. 1971 Spa, then the AMG Hammer in 1986, then 1998 with the SL55 and then, of course, the Gullwing, the SLS AMG in 2009 and there will be another ground shaking thing coming up this year. I can say that it will be another milestone car.
Are AMG engines designed as per Formula One standards?
I wish they were, but nobody could afford that, let's be quite honest. F1 is such a super high-tech business. A few folk from NASA were at our premises and, frankly, they were shocked at the standards that are prevalent in F1 Technology. We cannot do it like this, but our F1 guys can. However, as I said, there will be technology spilling over from our F1 guys into our business and, therefore, yes, we’re part of this world. But obviously, a normal engine could never produce power according to the quality and standards you need in F1.
Will the B-class ever come with an AMG version?
We may have a sports package but the B-class is not the sportiest design in the Mercedes-Benz range, so you will not find an AMG version of the B-class model.
Congratulations on the rocking performance of the Mercedes F1 team. What factors do you think contributed to these consecutive victories?
Five victories in five races and four consecutive 1-2 finishes - that’s pretty impressive and we hope it continues like that. Though it looks good now, it's racing and you never know. It’s because of the completely new rules, new engines and everything else. Mercedes-Benz has been at the forefront of developing new technologies – AMG Mercedes-Benz was the first to bring KERS into F1, so I think its investment into technology that’s put Mercedes Benz right up there. Where they are, it's great for us because it’s Mercedes AMG Petronas, so we all benefit from this F1 hype right now.