Mercedes-AMG Considered Cancelling Its F1 Supercar, Says Chief

The nearly $2.4 million AMG ONE lost some buyers along the way. But after six years, it is finally about to hit the street. (Just not in America.) Author of the article: Bloomberg News Hannah Elliott (Bloomberg) — It’s no secret that Mercedes-AMG has struggled to birth the Project ONE. The company’s moon-shot supercar—developed with the…
Mercedes-AMG Considered Cancelling Its F1 Supercar, Says Chief

The nearly $2.4 million AMG ONE lost some buyers along the way. But after six years, it is finally about to hit the street. (Just not in America.)

Author of the article:

Bloomberg News

Hannah Elliott

(Bloomberg) — It’s no secret that Mercedes-AMG has struggled to birth the Project ONE.

The company’s moon-shot supercar—developed with the Petronas Motorsport Team as a Formula 1-style vehicle owners could legally drive on public roads—was announced in 2016. But after more than six years still has yet to hit the street. 

Mercedes had remained mum regarding details of the delay of the 275 planned cars. (Somewhere along the way, the name changed to the Mercedes-AMG ONE, although almost everyone including Mercedes brass still refer to it as Project ONE.) But on May 31, the company announced that it had finally made an actual production model. On June 1, it got AMG ONE buyers in the United States on a video call to tell them that the AMG ONE would not be legal to drive on public roads in the U.S.

“Constant development and refinement have left us with a difficult decision for the US market,” said the official written notice of the decision not to homologate the car for the US, which was shared to Bloomberg by a Mercedes-Benz spokesperson June 9. “In order to preserve the unique character of its Formula 1 powertrain, we have concluded that meeting U.S. road standards would significantly compromise its performance and its overall driving character. We have taken the strategic decision to offer the car for road usage in Europe, where it meets applicable regulations.”

The spokesperson declined to clarify whether full, sustained production had started or the company had simply made a single production car. It was also unclear how many cars had been slated for the United States and whether any or all of those cars would still be delivered. Despite being illegal to drive as a commuter car, it could still be used for track days and showing off in garages and parking lots. A federal government “Show and Display” exemption law would presumably allow it to be imported as a special car limited to just 2,500-miles of driving annually. The spokesperson declined a Bloomberg request for further comment. 

Jochen Hermann, who leads the Project ONE development team, recently divulged the specific challenges of developing the 1,063-horsepower hybrid. The goal was to adapt the 2016 Mercedes F1 team car into something that would meet street safety, sound and emissions requirements—and run on conventional gasoline, not race fuel. Among other criteria, it would need to start with the push of a button—not a whole team of engineers checking every system for “go”—and be sturdy and practical enough to navigate the normal dips and bumps of highways and city roads. (Lightweight carbon fiber used in F1 is notoriously fragile, easily broken, and very expensive to replace.) Meanwhile it needed to retain the mind-blowing speed of an F1 racer.

The team worked for years to eventually adapt the race-car engine into a 1.6-liter V6 with direct injection and electrically assisted turbocharging; they paired it with four electric motors, an automated seven-speed transmission, all-wheel-drive and multiple drive modes. AMG ONE’s most distinctive exterior feature is the rooftop air intake that looks like the dorsal fin of a shark.  

During a conversation in Monte Carlo May 19, Hermann detailed why the €2.27 million ($2.41 million) marvel from back in 2016 is still relevant today—and why the majority of those who signed up years ago to buy one ago are still on-board. 

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

There have been no deliveries of the AMG ONE, yet — right?  

We will deliver cars in the second half of 2022. We will stick to that plan.  

This has been a challenge to produce.

Yeah. Actually I was in the room when the idea was born and I said, “Can we make sure [to say] that we were drunk?” Not drunk at the board meeting, but I was in the room when a few guys came together and said, “Why don’t we bring a Formula 1 car to a street legal version?”

I was sitting in the room and said, “Okay.” Not really realizing that I was going to be the guy who finally has finished it.

 It is refreshing that you guys are now open about discussing the challenge.

It is, it really is. It took me a while. As an engineer, you’re kind of embarrassed, right? Because you don’t want to tell people. Especially in my position, I only get problems the whole day. This is what I’m there for. So, it’s okay with me. But then I spoke to a customer and he opened my eyes because he said, “You know what? I don’t want to buy a car which is not a problem to be developed.”

I said, ‘You have no idea how complex it is.’ And he said, “Yeah, I understand. But I really think you should not even apologize because of some delay.” That is something only a customer can say, I cannot say that. And ever since, I stole this argument from him.

Did you consider cancelling the car altogether?

Two or three times we said, “You know what, why don’t we just stop the project. Give people the money back or make a race car or whatever.”

What was the biggest problem?

Actually, there were many. First of all, the foremost people think of, it’s the exhaust treatment. If you look at a Formula 1 car, it’s running at more than 3000 RPM in idle. So when the team talked to the [race engineers], they said we cannot run at 3000 RPM at idle.  

It’s not right for normal driving on the street.

Right. Then we had the after-treatment of the exhaust to be street legal for emissions. Once we had solved that one, now, looking back we more or less finished with the car, I think the most challenge we had was on the software side.

How so?

If Lewis [Hamilton] sits into his car and he wants to start the engine, you can see four or five people standing around the car with blocks and mechanical pieces stuck into the car. There’s a whole team helping him starting the engine.

It takes a village.

We had to put these people into sensors and hardware sensors and so forth because with Project ONE you can start the car like you can start any car. Here’s another example: if Lewis is going on test run, there’s a whole team sitting in the back office with their computers. They decide how he’s doing. We, again, had to put this into software and into hardware for the car. And that was really so complicated.

Now that it’s close to being brought to customers, people say, “Oh yeah, it’s a nice car.” 

Over many years we have all seen it splashed around a lot as an exciting upcoming thing.

Even in internal presentations, even if there’s a guy coming in to talk about tires for an SL, the opening picture would be Project ONE. So we always making fun and say, “Oh, we just use it for that.” But this car really helped us to understand this future of electric driving.

But it’s not an all-electric car.

No. However, it has a battery in it for electric motors. You can only drive this car quick on a racetrack if you know how to handle the energy. You have to have a strategy and you have to make a decision—What kind of vehicle are you going to drive?—which is completely different to a regular combustion engine.  

Is there a concern that because the car was conceived more than six years ago and is coming out now, it’s going to seem outdated to the people who put their name down on a list to buy it?

No. One thing we started the last two years is to talk with the customers because they are part of the project. Without these people, we would not be able to work in a dream car like that. They are paying us, having fun with these challenges. Sometimes it’s not so much fun, you know what I mean?

Painful fun.

It’s painful fun. That’s a good one. We went through all this pain, but now that we talked to the customers, they said, “No, no. Just explain us what is happening. We are part of it.”  

The customers are invested financially but also emotionally. 

We engage people. We had video talks to customers. We were explaining, “We have problems here and there and there.” For instance, we had a bearing issue in the engine. We found out we had to have a stronger bearing than in the Formula 1 car.

Why?

Because on a Formula 1 car, the engine lasts only for a few races. And with all the electric changes that we did, this bearing had to see more wear than you see on the Formula 1 car. So then [a developer] came to me and said, “You know the pressure that we have in this bearing is close to the pressure people use for industrial diamonds production.” So, if you talk about this to customers, they say, “Well, that’s a cool story. I like that car.”

I’m still apologizing for being late, because it’s a German attitude. Maybe other car brands would say, “You’re getting something special. We don’t apologize. It’s part of the game.” So, coming back to the question, is it outdated? No.

Have you had people pull their deposits?

I don’t know. Maybe one or two for maybe some other reasons, but we still have a waiting list.

One more question. In light of all of this news that Mercedes-Benz is prioritizing growth on the high end and getting rid of some low-end stuff, how does the AMG One play into that strategy? Can we expect any other forthcoming supercars? On top of the AMG GT, for instance.

I am not telling any secrets. If you are at the point of time where we are close to bringing the car to the customers, you don’t want to even think about the next one. But never say never.

The Mercedes-AMG ONE will officially be seen in motion for the first time later this month during the Goodwood Festival of Speed in England.

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