Poor Little Rich Car

If there’s any brand that ought to know how to market an ostentatious set of wheels, it’s Mercedes-Benz, which, incidentally, is making its ad debut in the Super Bowl this year. Back in 2002, parent company Daimler AG put the likes of Rolls-Royce and Bentley on notice when it pulled the tarp off the new Maybach. The luxury German nameplate hadn’t been seen for 60 years, but Daimler figured the timing was right for a comeback. After all, the economy was heating up, and even though the market for super-luxe wheels is only about 8,000 units a year, Maybach had all the perks—from a backseat bar to Hungarian goose down-stuffed headrests. Daimler only needed to sell 800 Maybachs a year to make a profit. Jay Leno bought one. So did Madonna and Jay-Z. (“Realest shit I ever wrote, chillin’ in my Maybach,” rapped Jay.)

But few others followed. Between 2003 and 2007, a mere 778 Maybachs purred out of showrooms. Last year, the U.S. buyer tally dropped to 63. (Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce sold 2,711 cars, most of them in America.) Daimler did not respond to our e-mails, but CEO Dieter Zetsche said earlier this month that when it comes to Maybach’s fate, “everything is on the table.”

So what went wrong? Well, the recession didn’t help, and Maybach’s inaugural marketing was sparse. And while all those interior perks were fab, the problem was on the outside. “It doesn’t have pop and sex appeal, and in this class of vehicle, you need pop and sex appeal,” says auto analyst Rebecca Lindland. The Maybach 62 looks an awful lot like a Mercedes S-Class, which can be had for a quarter of the price. “I drive a Mercedes S,” adds auto industry consultant Chris Cedergren. “It’s my mini-Maybach.”

Now, word is that Aston Martin is kicking Maybach’s tires, but the troubled brand may just disappear. So take a peek at the plush while it lasts.