Two years ago, Mercedes-Benz Thailand launched AMG here putting a lot of effort into establishing it as a distinct brand in its own right – and that strategy started reaping rewards almost immediately as the high-performance brand, supported by the infrastructure of the luxury leader here, really resonated with Thai buyers.
In truth, with the direction of automotive fashion trends here, AMG was knocking on an open door.
The AMG range has been very rapidly stocked up – and that puffing out of the portfolio went up another big gear this week as the red carpet was rolled out for the media and VIP launch of no less than five new models during a spectacular evening where the new quintet were dynamically unveiled around the racetrack at Impact Lakeside on the North Eastern outskirts of Bangkok.
The five new AMG models were namely (and unfortunately Mercedes has never got the hang of using succinct and catchy names) the AMG C43 4MATIC, which will be locally assembled, as well as the imported E53 4MATIC+, AMG GT 53 4MATIC+ 4 door coupe, making its South East Asia premiere, its bigger engined brother, the AMG GT 63 S 4MATIC+ 4 door coupe, and the show stealing AMG G 63.
Engines revving and tyres squealing over the tight track the five new models were launched together in front of more than a hundred members of the media, lapping in pairs, and they were joined by the rest of the AMG range in what was a vibrant and dynamic display. With a giant screen following the action around the track and the requisite loud music, towering banks of multi coloured floodlights and clouds of dry ice it was a spectacular launch – one very typical of Mercedes, a brand that could never be accused of being on the shy side.
And they have every right to be bullish. AMG is a brand that – in the Bangkok metropolis at least – clicks with Thai buyers. Rolling out AMG here, with the support and confidence building of the long-established Mercedes name and its big national network here, is one of the safer bets to be made by a carmaker in recent years.
To summarise the story to date. Mercedes launched AMG here in 2018 through handpicked dealers and they played it pretty safe by kicking off with two popular ‘crossover’ style models: the AMG GLC 43 4MATIC and AMG GLA 45 4MATIC, this growing segment of car just as popular here as anywhere else, as well as the GT as a ‘halo’ in coupe and roadster formats.
They added six more models last year, most significantly though, the AMG C 43 4MATIC Coupé was assembled locally at Mercedes’ long running factory on the outskirts of Eastern Bangkok, emphasising the company’s commitment to AMG’s market penetration here.
Growth last year tripled over 2017 and it’s in fact it’s up a further 79% for the first three months of this year against an overall market that is struggling to recapture last year’s surge. Dealers have passed the dozen mark with a big geographical spread.
Mercedes is the clear luxury segment leader in Thailand. With close to thirty five thousand sales in the ‘premium’ segment here last year, Mercedes captured close to half. Its biggest rivals here are BMW, Audi and Volvo. That’s pretty close to saturation point and so the AMG roll out is putting them in front of new customers.
Mercedes, it must be said, has a slightly staid image here, it’s synonymous with the older, affluent and reliable customer – although to be fair in particular the push in recent years into compact market segments is chipping at that demographic.
However, the arrival of AMG has in effect introduced Mercedes to new segments and it could be argued that, as it taps into a new generation of young and growing wealth, it’s creating new niches as it goes.
So a new generation of customers is in the sights of AMG. “The average age in each segment [of AMG] is dramatically lower than our MB age,” said Frank Steinacher, Vice President of Sales and Marketing during the launch.
Roland Folger, President added: “How many customers do we get in an AMG which didn’t drive a Mercedes before? That’s extremely high and it’s much higher than on our Mercedes cars so the conquest possibilities of an AMG compared to what we so far had with Mercedes is much bigger and that gives us access to different customers, customers that were convinced to drive any other brand and which they believe fits best and suddenly they end up with a Mercedes AMG.
“That actually for us is the big success and which is why we are so confident in the growth rates of AMG because we see the conquest possibility of the different customers that we couldn’t reach before are so much bigger than we could achieve before,” he added.
The ‘halo’ effect is proving to be a win-win. “That also rejuvenates the [Mercedes] brand as suddenly it’s becoming a much, much more acceptable performance brand,” Folger admits.
AMG is therefore having the added bonus of providing a shortcut route to giving Mercedes as a whole a more cool, younger and sexier image in Thailand without a marketing spending drain – rather this updated image is coming with a revenue stream tacked on.
AMG now accounts for 3% of total Mercedes sales here – that leaves a lot of room for growth so expect so see that number continuing to rise.
This year Mercedes isn’t lifting its foot of the gas as they stock up the AMG showrooms with seven new models launched so far – and five more to come over the remainder of the year.
Of those to arrive so far, five came during this week’s extravagant launch and if we run through them it’s probably best to kick off with the C43 4MATIC at 4.31 million baht which is going to be the volume winner.
The C43 is regarded as being at the milder end of the AMG spectrum, a ‘warm AMG model’, but Steinacher, who introduced the cars, was quick to emphasise how it lacks for nothing. “[It comes] with the necessary AMG equipment, which is the AMG SPEEDSHIFT TCT 9G transmission, AMG Ride Control, which gives a better balance on the race track and especially on fast changing directions, and our performance AMG 4MATIC suspension,” he said.
The C-class is already locally produced here and Mercedes has taken the decision to fit out the AMG C43 here.
Also being assembled here is the AMG E53 4MATIC+ which is priced at 5.26 million baht. It comes with the 3.0-litre 6-cyl inline turbo with 435 hp and 520 Nm and that adds up to a useful 0-100 km/h time of 4.5 seconds.
Significantly though for local production it comes with “EQ Boost”, the brand’s 48 volt mild hybrid electrical architecture that incorporates a starter motor-generator and electric compressor, as Steinacher explained: “What is special on that car [is] it comes with EQ Boost technology, so that is something you will see on more and more AMG cars because the advantage and the power that this electric component gives is actually on the acceleration part, not only at start but also out of the curve is tremendous and gives a different feel of performance.
“The boost has another 22 horsepower and 250 Nm and obviously recuperates the energy while you are braking or slowing down, and stores that in the battery,” he continued. “[This] has this improved starting comfort but especially on the performance side that is definitely something you will feel the difference.”
He believes the AMG E53 is going to be a very good fit to the AMG range here and reckons it’s “probably one of the most beautiful and exciting E Class you can drive.”
The third new model was GT 53 4MATIC+ 4 door coupe which has the same 3.0 6-cyl inline turbo engine with 435 hp and 520 Nw and the same 0-100 km/h dash time in 4.5 seconds.
Launching here for its South East Asian premier this is a significant model and Steinacher was quick to run through the car’s merits, starting by mentioning that its front clip is a nod to the performance brand’s future identity. “The AMG specific radiator grille with the vertical bars, it’s part of the GT family and also the future face of AMG.” He also noted that it has “an electrical air rear wing, multiple beam LEDs and 20 inch 5 spoke AMG rims.”
It also comes with EQ boost as well as the SPEEDSHIFT TCT 9 transmission, performance 4MATIC+ suspension, high performance AMG braking and a special AMG exhaust pipe.
The goodies continue inside and the sports seats and belts certainly stand out while Steinacher also explained the updated controls. “The v-shape drive unit in the centre console has eight selection buttons which have all single displays next to it so as a driver you will see what you change and when and latest status of the different technical components.”
The traditional controller wheel has gone and in its place is a new touch pad. “Easier to operate and guide you physically through what you visually see on the screen, so very easy and intuitive to operate,” Steinacher said.
The GT 53 S is nudging the ten million barrier, it’s priced at 9.99 million baht, and if you add on a further five million you will get the 14.99 million baht GT 63 S 4MATIC+ 4 door coupe that gives you essentially the same car but now equipped with the rather wild AMG tuned 4-litre V8 engine with 639 hp and 900 Nm that takes just 3.2 seconds to get you from standstill to 100 km/h and has a 315 km/h top speed.
Additional tweaks include AMG’s high-performance braking system, probably very wise on this level of car, as well as the rear axle steering technology as featured on the GT sportscar, a locking diff, dynamic AMG engine mounts that better absorb the engine vibrations and AMG’s Ride Control. Meanwhile inside the cabin there are sports seats, an AMG style steering wheel and buttons, the new drive unit drive and plenty of space in the rear.
Saving the best to last – or at least the vehicle that the media made a mad dash for ‘en masse’ when the showy launch was over – was the AMG breathed G Wagen.
Icon is an overused word during automotive launches and sometimes it’s exuberant use by on-message CEOs can have the assembled media grimacing quietly. But in the case of the G Wagen it’s not a case of overuse, this is a car that has earned its place in history.
At a whacking price tag of 14.79 million baht here the AMG breathed G63 really needs to be something a bit special. Steinacher thinks so. “That car for sure will exceed any expectations you have,” he says.
In AMG format the G63 is a visual standout. It’s no more the rugged off-road tool, the contemporary cart horse rival of Land Rover’s equally iconic Defender over the decades; rather this machine is for cruising downtown Miami or Las Vegas and making an ostentatious statement. Translate that to here and it’s a cruiser to for the city’s ‘Thong Lor’ district.
Under the bonnet is a 4 litre V8 biturbo engine with 585 hp and 855Nm that gets you from standstill to 100 km/h in 4.5 seconds so if by chance you end up off road you can certainly emerge from any fjord or muddy ditch at an impressive rate of knots. Top speed is 220 km/h.
It comes with Agility Control Suspension, TCT9 transmission, an exhaust system with chrome tipped side exits and a high-performance braking system. It also has a new interior, bigger displays and a new sound system.
And while the management were keen to point out that the AMG customer base is young, not so many young people here have a shade under 15 million baht burning a hole in their back pockets. “Young but with enough funding,” says Steinacher.
He reckons the big, bold and shining AMG version of the venerable G Wagen is busy rewriting the books. “What we do see, and I think it’s changing the customer segment of this vehicle worldwide, clearly, it is not for the pure outdoor enthusiasts where the G Wagen started, the G Wagon was the icon for people who wanted to go off road and enjoy adventures,” he says. “Now it’s more a style icon and a statement rather than for its off-road capabilities so much, even if the car can do everything, even more than you can imagine, but for most of our customers it’s a positioning of themselves, a statement.”
It certainly made a statement – it was the big draw for the media, emphasising that this model has a global reputation far from its traditional established markets.
Will we see many here? Probably not – but I would hazard a guess probably more than Mercedes will have listed in its secret ‘projected sales’ Excel files. But every C G3 that gets out on the roads in Bangkok is going to turn heads and will be the best possible billboard for AMG – big and bold, not just a statement for the owner but a statement for AMG’s ambitions here.