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Can AMG survive the electric age? | Opinion

The Vision AMG Concept “offers a glimpse of the all-electric future of AMG Driving Performance”.

Let’s play a game of automotive word association. What’s the first thing that pops into your mind when I say, AMG?

Yep. It’s a borderline anti-social roar emanating from a wide and low German sledgehammer on wheels, right?

Supercharged V8s, atmo V8s, turbo V8s, brutal V12s, the occasional six, and screaming in-line fours - raucous high-horsepower engines have been the backbone of AMG’s product line-up and brand reputation since the dawn of time.

For many, the seminal AMG muscle car is the original ‘Red Sow’, a crazy, late ‘60s motorsport special based on the already unhinged 300SEL 6.3.

Or how about the W124 ‘Hammer’ from the late ‘80s powered by a tuned version of Benz’s then king-of-the-hill 5.6-litre V8? It was immediately the world’s fastest production sedan, and pre-dated the 5.0-litre 500E, built by Porsche for Mercedes soon after. 

More recently, in 2008, the monstrous, naturally aspirated 6.2-litre ‘M156’ V8 was stuffed in the nose of the first C63. A humble C-Class pumping out 336kW and 600Nm. Mein Gott!

And that engine morphed into the ‘M159’ for use in the SLS supercar, and ultimately, one of the greatest Mercedes-AMGs of all, 2013’s SLS AMG Black Series.

With 464kW (622hp), 635Nm and an 8000rpm rev ceiling, that purely-focused beast had the ability to shrink the Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit to the size of a go-kart track.

Since then, the 4.0-litre twin-turbo ‘63’ V8 has been the mainstay across larger models including the C63 S, crazy G63 and current GT flagship. While the mental 2.0-litre ‘M139’ turbo four lights up the more affordable end of the line-up. 

But all that’s about to change. Mercedes-AMG is hell-bent on, “taking performance electric mobility to a whole new level”.

That’s current Mercedes-AMG CEO, Philipp Schiemer speaking, at the launch, earlier this year, of the Vision AMG Concept, a vehicle created to, “offer a glimpse of the all-electric future of AMG Driving Performance”.

What? An all electric future? How’s that going to sit with current AMG devotees? My guess? Not well.

Mr Schiemer spoke about emotion, driving fun, handling, ingenious aerodynamic features and innovative solutions. But the words ‘big noisy donk’ were conspicuous by their absence.

Let me put this question mark regarding AMG’s electric future in context. A few years ago I had the opportunity to participate in a ‘Festival of AMG’ owner’s event, in this case staged at Mount Panorama, Bathurst.

Previous interaction with AMG owners had been a literally rarefied affair, doing skids with high net worth SLS owners around the play centre for grown ups known as the Snow Farm in New Zealand. 

And clearly, top-end Mercedes-AMG models, like the GT and SL63 are aimed at people who already have several desirable cars in their possession. 

But at Bathurst, I discovered the AMG rank and file has more in common with an HSV GTS than a Ferrari GTS.

These were self-made business people, ready to hot lap a cathedral of speed they’d worshipped all their lives. With just the one special car in the garage that ticks all the prerequisite boxes.

Macho stance. Check! Hi-po engine. Double check! Rumbling exhaust note guaranteed to announce your arrival from half a suburb away. Mother-flippin’ triple check!

No matter how many ‘innovative solutions’ you pack into a leccy Mercedes-AMG, it’s not going to be the same. It’s as appealing as an electric HSV would have been.

Some may remember the 2015 Renault Clio RS synthetic sound system called ‘R-Sound Effect.’ A clever set-up offering six engine sounds played in real time through the car’s speakers and synched with driver inputs to give the illusion of different engines.

You could dial up a Renault 8 Gordini, Sport Clio II V6, even the Renault Reinastella flying spaceship concept. It was fun for about 10 minutes, then… crap.

Things have moved on substantially since then, and the boffins in Affalterbach recognise that compelling sound is important to AMG’s on-going success, and have put a bucket-load of time, money, and effort into addressing the issue. 

But even if the soundscape is brilliant, when they know it’s not real, not connected to anything physical, the experience for a current AMG fan is likely to be hollow.

Here’s another example of what I’m talking about. The Harley Davidson LiveWire. If ever there was a company whose products are branded by the sound they make, it’s Harley. The syncopated ‘potato-potato’ V-twin beat is unmistakable and loved by owners old and new.

As the name implies, the LiveWire is an electric roadster, and Harley Davidson is boldly predicting 101,000 sales by 2026. Total sold in all of 2021? Yep, 387. 

And don’t get me wrong. I’m not an electric vehicle luddite. The move to zero tailpipe emissions is right in so many ways and exciting for so many reasons. 

It’s just when you’ve hitched your wagon to a high-performance internal combustion star for so long there has to be doubt over whether you can successfully change your brand’s identity so rapidly and radically.

My social media feeds have been dotted with posts from Mercedes-AMG lately, celebrating its 55th anniversary, with the Red Sow as hero.

But the AMG EV transition is already underway locally with the imminent arrival of the Mercedes-AMG EQS 53 4Matic+. Go to the website and listen to the car’s ‘Performance’ soundtrack. ‘Race-Start’, ‘Engine Startup’, ‘Drive Sound’, and ‘Engine Shutdown.’ What do you think?

This sleek five-door is fast. Like, 3.8sec 0-100km/h fast. But speed is one thing. A Star Wars Landspeeder soundtrack is another.

The joy of ownership can be as simple as pressing the start button and hearing a pulsing, guttural note blaring out the end of your exhaust pipes. And it’s worth remembering 30 per cent off all Mercs sold in Australia are AMGs.

Can Mercedes-AMG recruit EV-focused buyers without losing the base it’s cultivated over more than half a century? Will the transition to a zero tailpipe emission fleet be successful? Let’s just say the next few years will be very interesting.