Car Wash ramp #56

The Mercedes-AMG SL is the new edition of a legendary dream car that can look back on a glorious history. But even a legend needs to be washed every now and then. And there’s no better person to do it with than Philipp Schiemer, CEO of Mercedes-AMG.
  • Interview
    Michael Köckritz
  • Photos
    Matthias Mederer · ramp.pictures

If you really want to know more about something and get to the heart of the matter, you should leave familiar paths behind. That’s what we did. Getting on the B14 in Stuttgart, we pass by the Daimler AG headquarters in Untertürkheim and keep on going until we reach the Winnenden/Affalterbach exit. Because that’s where the heart of our matter beats, where AMG reinterprets some of the especially breathtaking Mercedes designs. It’s only logical that Mercedes recently merged its performance brand with Maybach and the G-Class in a new business group, to send the trio off into the luxury race together. And because Mercedes probably thought that the new SL would fit in quite well here, it is now allowed to bear the AMG letters as well. The sub-brand group is headed by AMG CEO Philipp Schiemer. We meet him wearing sneakers, chinos and a leather jacket and carrying a bucket of water, which always passes for a stylish outfit when you join us for a car wash. This time, of the new Mercedes-AMG SL. A red R107 series SL is parked just a few meters away. After all, it’s always good to have a point of reference.

Mr. Schiemer, the SL is one of the great automotive icons, widely considered to be the best roadster ever. To put it in provocative terms: Does the world still want the best roadster?

If you ask me, demand for an exceptional, sporty, well-designed, exclusive car remains unbroken. In the SL segment, it’s more a question of supply than demand, because there are enough car lovers out there who are happy to adorn themselves with a product like this or call it their own. Just look at the feedback we’ve been getting on the new SL. Besides, the SL can look back on almost seventy years of history and has left its mark on generations. Looking back, there’s an SL at every point in our past, as a dream car that was admired or – if we think back to the 1960s and 1970s – perhaps even hated. But it was always there in people’s minds. A Mercedes SL is recognizable; it has always been associated with a certain lifestyle, with that certain something. We firmly believe that the new SL has what it takes to become a defining car once more because of the way it borrows old elements and reinterprets them in new ways.

“Along the California coast, the roadster still represents a certain way of life. That hasn’t changed at all.”
Open-top driving used to be a symbol of luxury, in part because it was associated with taking pleasure in a certain recklessness. Calculated rationalism is seldom light and easy and rarely drives with the top down. Is that still the case today

In the mass market, I don’t think that driving convertibles is all that relevant anymore, but in the luxury market it is. Our most important market here is the US, especially California. Along the coast, the roadster still represents a certain way of life. That hasn’t changed at all. At the same time, we’re seeing that the markets in Germany or even in England are absolutely willing to embrace sports cars and roadsters. The SL is not really targeted at the high-growth markets in Asia, as the roadster segment is rather underdeveloped there. That’s very much due to the climate and the general environmental conditions. Of course, we’re trying to generate interest there as well, but it will never make up the bulk of our sales.

What about the whole luxury aspect?

The letters “SL” originally stood for sporty and light. Today, we would probably say sporty and luxurious, because the car is still extremely agile, but it also has all the luxury features that buyers expect from a Mercedes – things like the latest assistance systems and fantastic details such as the sound system, but also the quality of the materials and craftsmanship. So, yes, today SL clearly stands for luxury.

“The grille is strongly reminiscent of the first SL racing car that won some of the most famous endurance races as well as the Panamericana several times.”
AMG is part of the luxury faction within the Mercedes world. There are Maybach, the G-Class and AMG. How would you define this luxury world today and what will it be like in the future?

First of all, the vehicle characteristics for each of the individual areas you mentioned are very different, as they should be. AMG is about performance, the G-Class stands for adventure and Maybach offers an exclusive level of luxury. But what they all have in common are the expectations of the customers, who gain a sense of belonging to a family, to a community, through the products they buy. These are very demanding customers who spend a lot of money on their cars and expect something very special in return. This expectation relates both to the product and to the way the customers are served and treated. And because we try to address these buyers in a certain way, these vehicle segments are grouped together in the same organizational unit.

Is Mercedes still a luxury brand or more of a premium brand?

Today we would say – and this is the strategy that Ola Källenius issued last year – that Mercedes is always strongest where we are exclusive. Where we are special. And that’s why we want to build on these strengths. We are well aware that we no longer serve certain vehicle segments because they no longer fit our image, and we are optimally positioned in the luxury segment. This also enables us to deal with the changes that we are seeing at the moment.

On the subject of change: What do things like electromobility mean for AMG?

Of course, that’s a challenge not just for AMG, but for the entire automotive industry. At AMG, certain attributes will have to be completely reinterpreted. Sound, for example, is a very defining attribute for the AMG brand. Electromobility will change the sound considerably, and we will have to find the right answers. Another issue is the powertrain. We have to look at what defines the performance attributes of an electric powertrain. These are obviously different from those of a combustion engine – no less emotional, but certainly different. Another point – one we’ve touched on already – is the huge opportunity to increase customer loyalty and make them part of a family. We want to offer our customers not just a product, but a whole world to explore and experience. This world starts online and must also be reflected through physical retail or at joint events. That’s why we’re investing so heavily in driving experiences and other opportunities for physical contact.


“Sound is a very defining attribute for AMG. Electromobility will change this considerably.”
Let’s talk about the design of the SL. What distinguishes the SL at first glance? 

There are different design features. Of course, the car has the typical AMG grille, but that was already there on the original SL. I would say that the grille is strongly reminiscent of the first SL racing car that won some of the most famous endurance races as well as the Panamericana several times. Then there’s the design of the hood with the power domes. If you put the original SL next to the latest model, you’ll see how the current design reflects the past.

What about the interior?

The cockpit is what we call “hyperanalogue” – characterized by a beautiful mix of analogue, in the trim and other elements, and a strong digital component. With modern ambience that can be easily customized using the configurable lighting. So overall, it’s a very exclusive interior design and an incredibly successful mix that you rarely see in a sports car. On top of it all, the vehicle is also extremely practical. It is supposed to be sporty, but also a good daily driver. And for the first time ever, it comes with four-wheel drive, a refinement that helps to make it more appealing to a wider demographic.

Have you got a favorite angle?

I have to say that the SL has many good sides. Some find the rear particularly successful, I like the sloping view from the front very much, because it emphasizes the sporty nose with the very dynamically cut lights and you also have a good view of the side silhouette.

1/2
And what color would you choose?

That’s a very difficult decision to make. I think the car looks good in lots of different colors. Red is a very good choice, but I also find the SL to be very attractive in white. 

That classic red SL back there... Is that yours?

It is. It’s a model from the R107 series. The car reminds me of my youth, of Bobby Ewing from Dallas. That ought to still mean something to some people. Richard Gere also drove the same model in American Gigolo. Though mine isn’t a 500, but a 280 SL, the European version. A very nice car with a black top.

Do you find the time to drive it?

Not as much as I’d like. But I keep the car registered year round so I can go out for a drive whenever the sun comes out. And then I try to drive it deliberately and with purpose. 

Do you wash your car yourself?

Yes, I polish it twice a year. At the beginning and at the end of the season.

In a way, a classic car like that is a symbol of sustainability. How does AMG address this topic?

Sustainability is extremely important to us, as it is to Mercedes-Benz as a whole. At AMG, we have the same goals: We want to become completely carbon-neutral in our vehicle production by 2039. And to achieve this goal, we are moving towards increased electrification of our vehicle fleet. The SL, for example, is powered by our E Performance hybrid powertrain.

What kind of music do you listen to while driving?

I have quite an eclectic taste in music, but at heart I’m a child of rock music and like to listen to harder stuff like AC/DC, but also the Stones. Though I do listen to newer stuff as well.

Mercedes-AMG SL 63 4MATIC+

  • Engine
    twin-turbo V8
  • Displacement
    3,982 cc
  • Power
    585 hp (430 kW)
  • Torque
    800 Nm at 5,500–6,500 rpm
  • 0–100 km/h
    3,6 s
  • Top speed
    315 km/h
Michael Köckritz

Michael Köckritz

Editor in Chief
As a journalist, author, artist and media maker, Michael Köckritz succeeds time and again in creating both attention-grabbing and sustainably stimulating impulses in the context of contemporary and future topics as well as lifestyle and luxury worlds. As publisher and editor-in-chief, he has realised a whole series of book and lifestyle magazine formats that have regularly won numerous national and international awards over the years. The car culture magazine ramp, the men's lifestyle magazine rampstyle and the design magazine ramp.design are published internationally and are considered style-setting.
ramp #56 Alles zu seiner Zeit

ramp #56 Alles zu seiner Zeit

Alle Entscheidungshysteriker müssen jetzt tapfer sein, die Bewohner der Führungsetagen der Wirtschaftswelt sowieso. Denn nirgends ist die Kultur eines besinnungslosen Aktionismus so endemisch wie hier.

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