Why Mercedes-Benz Will Build Maybach SUV in Alabama

Daimler’s Mercedes-Benz may be one of the best-known luxury brands on the planet. Less well-known, perhaps, is its ultra-luxury brand, Maybach. The 2018 Mercedes-Maybach sedan is available in two models, the S 560 and the S 650, with prices starting at $168,600 and $198,700, respectively.

While an official announcement has not yet been made, Mercedes is said to be preparing to build a super-luxury Mercedes-Maybach GLS sport utility vehicle at its plant in Vance, Alabama, according to a report at Automotive News. The ultra-luxury SUV will be powered by a V8 engine making in excess of 560 horsepower and will have a starting price of around $200,000.

The GLS could be unveiled as soon as next month at the Shanghai Auto Show. Chinese buyers bought more than two-thirds of all Maybachs sold last year, so it makes sense to reveal the GLS in China.

What’s the market for a new SUV that costs nearly as much as a median-priced U.S. home? Buyers are expected to be younger than the buyers for Maybach’s sedans, now viewed as too old-fashioned.

According to analysts at AutoForecast Solutions, the global market for ultra-luxury SUVs is on track to rise from around 7,500 last year to more than 20,000 by 2023, with 75% of the market shared between the United States and China. The Mercedes-Maybach will be competing with ultra-high-end SUVs from Aston Martin, Ferrari, Bentley, Rolls-Royce and Lamborghini, all of which are already available and all but the Ferrari Purosangue will be by the end of this year. The Rolls-Royce Cullinan sells for a tidy $325,000.

Tim Urquhart of IHS Markit told Automotive News that the Mercedes-Maybach GLS will “appeal to the Kardashians and hip-hoppers if they want something slightly different” from the existing Mercedes G class and AMG variant. Not to mention considerably more expensive with a higher margin for the automaker.

The Mercedes Alabama plant is also in the early stages of a $1 billion upgrade to build a new battery plant and begin building the company’s EQ line of electric vehicles due out in the first years of the next decade. The plant is the second-largest exporter of U.S.-built vehicles (trailing only BMW). Mercedes builds all its SUVs (G, GLS and GLE) in Alabama.