Mercedes-Benz often produces concepts that can hint at something about the future direction of the brand. One of the latest concepts from Stuttgart is Project Maybach, a six-meter off-road coupe created in collaboration with fashion designer Virgil Abloh. “We wanted to do something unexpected, a car that people will think about,” says Robert Lešnik, head of exterior design at Mercedes, about the concept.
There is probably no better place to present a car created in collaboration with a well-known fashion designer than the Prague Fashion Week, a fashion week of which Mercedes-Benz is a long-term partner. Even among extravagant pieces of clothing, you won’t miss the six-meter coupe with a long hood, high ground clearance and off-road tires. Someone also wanted to take a picture with him, so the eyes of the security guard had to be constantly alert so that no one would damage the unique car.
Project Maybach was created in collaboration between the Mercedes design team, led by Gorden Wagener, and the team of fashion designer Virgil Abloh. He worked for the Louis Vuitton brand, where he designed the men’s collection, but at the end of November last year, he died of cancer at the age of 41. This was not the first collaboration between the car company and the icon of the fashion industry, already in 2020 they designed the so-called Project Geländewagen, i.e. off-road class G, but without the typical higher ground clearance and more in the style of sports or racing cars. This concept has already raised a number of questions and debates, in short, it has been talked about.
Chief exterior designer of Mercedes Robert Lešnik. | Photo: Mercedes-Benz
“When someone thinks of the G-Class, they see off-road, but the car is not that. People started to think about it: is it a real car or a model? Why was it created?” says the chief exterior designer of Mercedes, Robert Lešnik, for Aktuálně.cz. “And that’s the whole idea behind the whole collaboration with Virgil Abloh. To make people think. What could be? Why did they do it?” delivers even in relation to the two-seater Project Maybach.
It is a car full of contrasts, just as the world of the automotive and fashion industry is full of contrasts. According to Lešnik, the most important thing was to find a compromise between how the team around Virgil Abloh envisioned the car and what was even possible to produce to make the car actually be. “According to many, the combination of the fashion and automotive worlds cannot work. In the end, however, we can all gain from this, inspire each other,” says the automotive designer.
Robert Lešnik then nails the two-tone painting of the body of the prototype, which is also very popular with the serial Mercedes-Maybach S-Class and GLS. “It’s kind of a new interpretation of that two-tone scheme,” he describes. The sides of the six-meter long concept are painted in Colorado beige – this is a universal color, not metallic, as is common with new cars. “It was the wish of Virgil Abloh directly. To use something that is not actually a car paint,” says Lešnik.
The middle part of the car is glossy black. “The sides of the car are very geometric and seem to hold its center. It’s like a jewel, a stone on a ring that holds its rim. In a way it’s protective. Imagine that you’re driving off-road and the middle of the car is protected by its sides, which are more robust,” describes Robert Lešnik.
But the central part of the concept is not only about the shiny black color, but also about the long hood. Anyone expecting a 12-cylinder petrol like the top-spec S-Class will be disappointed. Project Maybach runs on electricity. Still, it has a long hood that hides the solar panels. According to Lešnik, this shows that a long hood can also be justified in electric cars and that solar panels don’t have to be just on the roof.
He also admits that, for example, with the soon-to-be-sold EQS SUV, where the hood is long enough, a similar solution would also make sense because the driver won’t open it. There is no luggage compartment under it, the so-called frunk, so that the solar panels could not be destroyed by constant opening and closing.
However, a completely different detail of the concept could eventually appear for serial Mercedes, and therefore Maybachs. “You remember the older Maybachs (models 57 and 62 – editor’s note), which had the car company’s logo in the lens of the lights? I really liked that detail. It’s not visible at 200 meters, but you’ll only discover it over time when you take a closer look,” says Lešnik. In his opinion, the lights are generally a part where a lot of potential lies. He mentioned, for example, the light bar, first introduced on the EQC electric SUV four years ago, which works in the US even as daytime running lights. It’s not legally possible anywhere else, but it is in America. The designer also admitted that the mask with a diamond pattern could be backlit.
The cooperation with Virgil Abloh also saw its serial outcome. Mercedes will produce 150 units of the Maybach S-Class in the same beige-black color combination. Even the 20-inch forged aluminum wheels of the production class S have the same paint as the Project Maybach body. “These are very luxurious and expensive. And we painted them in this color, so they look quite cheap in a way,” explains Lešnik.
“It could be steel, it could even just be a plastic cover. It certainly doesn’t resemble aluminum, but we made them anyway. Because it’s something unexpected,” adds the exterior designer of the three-pointed star. All produced units of the S-Class in cooperation with Virgil Abloh will have a turbocharged six-liter twelve-cylinder engine with an output of 450 kW under the hood.
In addition to Project Maybach, Mercedes-Benz also presented a preview at Fashion Week of the new generation SUV GLC, which is one of the brand’s most important models. There are currently three mild hybrid versions available in the Czech configurator: gasoline models GLC 200 with an output of 150 kW and GLC 300 with an output of 190 kW and a diesel version of the GLC 220 ds with an output of 145 kW. All engines also have a 17kW electric motor, automatic transmission and all-wheel drive. The cheapest GLC 200 4Matic starts at 1,353,990 crowns. In the future, there should be more variants available, including a plug-in hybrid that promises a range of over 100 km on electric power.