Volker Mornhinweg is chairman of the board of management at Mercedes-AMG GmbH. The 45-year-old Mornhinweg was born in Stuttgart and completed a traineeship as a machinist at what was then Daimler-Benz AG before going on to study precision engineering at Esslingen Technical College. He has been working for the company since 1977 and has held various positions within the group, including plant manager of the powertrain facility in Berlin-Marienfelde. Before assuming his current position, Mornhinweg was Vice President for Executive Management Development, responsible for the career development of DaimlerChrysler's top executives. He was interviewed by Inside Line's Alistair Weaver.
You left your job as head of executive management to become the boss of AMG. Was it a difficult decision?
I knew this was a rare opportunity to run a whole business, with profit and loss responsibilities. AMG is a boutique company — it's fair to say that I'm the Dr. Ulrich Bez [Aston Martin CEO] of DaimlerChrysler.
Until recently, AMG had relied upon supercharging to boost performance, but the new 6.3-liter unit is normally aspirated. What is the future for AMG's power plants?
In 2-3 years, supercharged engines will be a thing of the past for AMG. The emissions performance of a supercharged engine is not good enough to make them viable. We are looking at direct-injection turbo engines as an alternative.
The new engine is a V8. Will you produce another six-cylinder?
The market demand for the [six-cylinder] C32 was not good. From a technical perspective, a V6 could be attractive because it's lighter than a V8, but our customers favor big displacement and a V8.
Will we see another AMG diesel?
A diesel AMG would be popular in two markets — France and Italy. But if demand were to grow in the U.S., we could respond quickly because we have the knowledge and the competency. Modern diesels deliver a high level of torque, which is one of AMG's core values.
The new S65 AMG has 612 horsepower. Will power outputs keep increasing?
The physical maximum for the power output is around 650-700 hp. The big problem is cooling — you run out of room for all the radiators.
Are you considering introducing all-wheel drive for the most powerful sedans?
We have proved that we can deploy 612 hp on a dry street and we believe that 650 hp is possible. A decision to switch (to (all-wheel drive) is not just taken for performance reasons. It is also a psychological choice driven by philosophy and marketing. If the market started to demand (all-wheel drive) we could respond, quickly.
When the power outputs stabilize, how will you differentiate the AMG models?
An AMG will always have enormous power and unique design, but there is an opportunity to improve the handling across the product range. We can also introduce more specific characteristics into our models.
In the future, our saloon [sedan] car range will be split into three segments:
The entry-level C-Class will be more aggressive, with bold styling and excellent handling. It will use a smaller-capacity version of the 6.3-liter naturally aspirated engine.
The E-Class will deliver performance and comfort with unique interior and exterior styling. We may use an active center differential to provide sportier characteristics.
The S-Class will be more understated and it will have a more luxurious interior, not just more power.
Does this signal a change in strategy?
We must think more clearly about our products. In 1999, the policy was for AMG to produce a top-of-the-line version of each model, but this has changed. There will not be an AMG version of the [European] A-Class or B-Class. There is huge demand for the ML63, but AMG won't produce a derivative of the new GL-Class.
We must ask, "What is in it for the brand?" and every car must be profitable.
You recently introduced a Black Series version of the SLK in Europe (5.4-liter V8 specially tuned to 400 hp, fixed carbon-fiber roof, 19-inch wheels and composite brakes). Is this a concept you will be returning to in the future?
Many of our customers now ask for cars for the racetrack, like a [Porsche] Club Sport. The SLK Black Series is a response to those demands. Each year we will produce a hundred Black Series cars.
[In Europe,] AMG will offer a pyramid of models, with our standard cars at the bottom, the Black Series in the middle and the Signature Series at the top. As you go up the pyramid, the cars get more exclusive and more expensive.
It has been suggested that AMG was unhappy when McLaren was given responsibility for the SLR. Is there any truth to those rumors?
We build the engine and we have a good relationship with [McLaren Chairman] Ron Dennis. [McLaren Managing Director] Martin Whitmarsh is also a good guy.
But there is no question that AMG has the skills to build a car like that from scratch...Anyway, I have to go now...[laughs]