The Frankfurt show last month was full of significant birthday celebrations, amazingly not all of them 911-shaped. The C36 debuted at Frankfurt in 1993; 20 years on to the day PH spoke with outgoing boss Ola Kallenius and his
Tobias Moers. And then we went out and
drove the two cars
that book-end this significant anniversary...
Kallenius very much the corporate player
It's an odd situation, given the outgoing boss is new-school Mercedes-AMG while his replacement very much represents
the old-school era
, having started at AMG in 1994.
As expected Kallenius plays a straight corporate bat, deflecting questions about his proudest personal achievement at AMG - "I haven't reflected yet" - by pointing to the bigger picture and increased "brand recognition" within Mercedes. He's slick though, smoothly segueing into how proud he is that over half of the 1,200 people working at AMG are engineers like Moers, who nods in agreement at the significance of this.
OK then, as a marketing man how does he balance the need to increase awareness of AMG without diluting the status of the products? Or, to put it another way, can the brand be both a supplier of branded for Mercedes owners at large and a credible builder of top dollar, 500hp-plus mega Mercs?
Replacement Moers comes from development side
It's probably not the first time he's been asked this...
"We should go out and look at some cars!" he says. "For the AMG out and out performance car the styling is more clearly differentiated. If you look at the front of the new E-Class it has this very unique styling element what we call the A-wing - whether it's in your face or subliminally it tells you it's an AMG. The AMG Line, previously known as the Sports Package, offers the Mercedes buyer who wants a sporty look also a very distinct appearance but it's a very different look from the AMG. As we launch new models you will see this change and this natural differentiation between models - now we do the styling in the concept stage with our colleagues in Sindelfingen; we are at the table so it's not that they start the car and then throw it over the wall to us."
Moers agrees. "This is how it was the days before - the car was finished by Mercedes styling and we would then start with our styling and then we had some compromise. This is past."
20 years is a long time in AMG
If there's one car that blurs this distinction it's the A-Class and CLA, both of which can be had 'Engineered by AMG' in a halfway house between traditional sports packages and the full-blown AMG model. "The suspension on that car and the driving dynamics is by us, which is why that is Engineered by AMG," says Moers, "but
has more than 100hp more and is totally different."
Back to Kallenius. "If you take the C63 below the skin there is almost more different than the same, the E63 has a complete new front axle, the suspension arms are different, the ESP system is unique for AMG so it's almost it's own car."
Moving on, can AMG really continue its big engine, big power thing in the eco conscious modern age? And 20 years down the line will we still have V8s?
Turbos here to stay, so are big V8s - phew
"The trend is clear," says Kallenius, with news that the 5.5-litre turbo V8 will
soon be phased out
. "Downsizing and turbocharging is where the future is, we love our naturally aspirated engines and they're still out there for you to have but in the medium to long term I think there is no way around different kind of charging systems to get to the combination of power, torque and efficiency."
Moers reckons big engines haven't quite had their day yet either. "There is room for more [efficiency] with bigger displacement and you can imagine how big it could be and there are some good competitor engines now on the market with 4.0, 4.4-litre engines and the behaviours of those engines is close to naturally aspirated and they show what is possible."
A generous appraisal of efforts by BMW and Audi there, Kallenius quick to assert AMG's expertise in the field though. "You can see with the 5.5 engine that replaced the 6.2 - you now have a torque advantage and you still have that unique AMG sound so the engineers were able to do their magic and sprinkle a little bit of AMG dust," he grins. "As a matter of fact you won't find an S63 driver or an E63 driver saying 'oh my goodness I want to go back', it was a very smooth transition so I think we can protect the AMG DNA and at the same time lead the technological front."
A45 shows a broadening of AMG's horizons
Speaking of the brand DNA, how does he think that will impact on that of Aston Martin, shortly to be
taking engines from AMG
? "They sought a premium technical partnership and came to us to see if we had any interest," says Kallenius. "We came to the conclusion we could find common ground and means we will be the technical partner, the supplier of engines on the one hand, and electronic components on the other so when they develop their next platform for Aston Martin they have access to great technology and as part of that deal we are receiving up to five per cent of the equity of Aston Martin without cash changing hands so to speak. Aston Martin is a great brand and AMG is a great brand and I think we can share the cost of future engine development. So I think there is a benefit from a business point of view for both parties and we will definitely make sure that the character of the vehicles stay
true to their DNA
Baby SLS on the way? Not denied...
Kallenius departs AMG with some exciting products for Moers to see through to fruition too. He doesn't mention the much-discussed 'baby SLS' by name but hints, "it's not like it's the end of the fireworks - we're in the middle of it so next year we're going to have even more press launches and 2015 looks like it's going to be a very exciting year. We have a few more cars up our sleeves to make sure that the PistonHeads readers are very satisfied!"