Just as surely as night follows day, Germany’s luxury carmakers are ready to follow each other down each and every rathole into which the competition – specifically the German competition, which is all they really care about – has ventured. And so as BMW’s gargantuan X6 scooped up big, easy profits -- the jacked up, fastbacked, four-doored so-called sports activity coupe is conveniently based on the X5 SUV, itself based on the 5-series sedan -- Mercedes was constitutionally required to respond in kind, no matter how vulgar the result. So welcome this latest excrescence, the GLE. Based on the underpinnings of the excellent E-Series sedan, it will have been comparatively cheap to engineer, design and build, but it will sell for a substantial premium over the E-Class, entirely unjustified on the basis of actual cost to its maker, but a price a few sad souls will happily pay. This will spread joy around Mercedes Benz corporate headquarters, while to these eyes setting a new low water mark for the world’s oldest brand.
As the motoring press tut-tutted over the powerful and humongous GLE, be it in quiet resignation or stunned amazement, a noisier dialogue on the stand among journalists and Mercedes staffers both was about the company’s just-announced decision to move those headquarters, from its longstanding site in northern New Jersey to the Atlanta region, along with a thousand jobs. While some wags, including me, hypothesized that this never would’ve happened if New Jersey governor Chris Christie had been on the case in his official state of residence instead of attending prayer breakfasts in Iowa and defending himself against the never-ending Bridgegate scandal, Mercedes insiders said that the governor’s office really had tried to keep them. But, they said, its hands were tied by laws that limited the size of the giveaways one might offer to a corporation doing business in New Jersey, unless of course the company was willing to move to Camden, which city federal law treats as an economic disaster zone. Apparently the company didn’t think depressed Camden fit their upscale image. (Ascendant Subaru is, however, moving to Camden, so perhaps there’s hope for that bleak burg across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, after all.) The dejected question this one time son of the great state of New Jersey had, “Don’t you guys have enough money already?” was met with blank stares.
Once upon a time, Mercedes thought that the higher cost of living was worth it to be near New York City. Not only did the region and the adjacent Northeastern states provide some of its biggest sales, but also the sensibility jibed more closely with the company’s European outlook. But today, as the new GLE makes abundantly clear, the company is looking to sell cars not just to effete Eastern tastemakers but to luxury strip mall visitors everywhere. “It’s a fifty-year move,” another Mercedes friend confided, in the course of explaining the corporate motivation. Of course, in fifty years, when thanks to global warming the mercury reaches 150 degrees Fahrenheit in Atlanta by March and the city is partially submerged in seawater, they can reconsider. At least, if their cars are still riding as high as the GLE, they’ll be able to ford the roads to work.