PH sits down with Brabus CEO Constantin Buschmann to discuss the future of 'super-exclusive' cars
By Cam Tait / Friday, 20 October 2023 / Loading comments
Brabus doesn’t normally open its doors to foreign media. The German tuning firm, best known for producing some of the lairiest Mercedes on the planet, has been quietly operating out of the same dealership in the sleepy town of Bottrop – about an hour outside of Dusseldorf – since its inception in 1977. The fact that PH was invited to take a peek behind the curtain of one of the car world’s most exclusive tuners is a sign of the major changes that have taken place in recent years.
The abridged story goes something like this: Brabus was started by Bodo Buschmann and Klaus Brackmann (the Brabus name originating from the first three letters of their surnames) back in ’77 as a tuning and service centre for Mercedes cars. Over the subsequent 41 years, the firm would become the go-to Mercedes tuner for those who found AMG products to be a bit tame, and establish itself as one of the biggest and most famous independent aftermarket companies on planet Earth.
In 2018, however, the company was rocked by the untimely passing of co-founder Bodo Buschmann, which would ultimately see his son Constantin take over the reins as CEO. Though he’d inherit the role under difficult circumstances, he was more than prepared for the task at hand. Constantin began working for his father’s company all the way back in 2005, before working his way up to head of sales. It was here where he discovered that, while Brabus had amassed a strong reputation for building “super exclusive” cars that deliver a “punch”, the company seemed resistant to innovation and change.
“I noticed that we were a very stable company very well known amongst enthusiasts, collectors, car fans, all of those, all those people really in the know”, he recalls. “And at some point, I discovered I’m gonna have to ask my dad to increase my competence within the company because I went to him, I said: ‘you need to give me the brand… let me modernise the way we face the world and the way we tell our stories to the world. And that will then help us to sell more.’”
Once in charge, Constantin set about bringing Brabus up to speed by updating the ageing website and populating it with glossy product imagery and video. Not only did this make it easier to sell cars and upgrade packs, but it also lay the foundations for the next phase of his master plan – to transform Brabus into a global luxury brand.
“I had an inkling that we can do a few more things, because I saw that the customers who bought S Classes, Brabusised [his word, promise!], G wagons, E classes, GLEs… they were also asking you about different things regularly. We would have customers asking: ‘can you also work on my 911 or on my nice Range Rover?’ And we would say ‘no, we can’t… because we’ve never done it.’ It’s the kind of argument that, when I ask people in a management conference, I kind of got the feeling that we’re saying we were not doing it because we’ve never done it.”
Accordingly, Constantin began actively exploring new avenues to grow the business. It wasn’t an overnight process, with the company drip-feeding new models and products into the range to see how its customers would react, but the past five years have seen a radical expansion that includes the aforementioned Range Rovers and Porsches (I of course had to try the latter while I was there, which you can about read here), along with Rolls-Royces and Aston Martins.
It’s not just cars, either. Parked outside the dealership entrance is a Brabus-developed boat, while a Brabus-badged motorbike sits alongside an assortment of carbon-clad Mercs and Porsches in the showroom. There is a Brabus fashion line (not to be confused with ‘normal’ merch you find at your local Merc dealer), which the company flaunts with its own fashion shows where models and cars take to the catwalk at the same time. Even the office chairs have Brabus badges on them, while the lockers and workshop drawers are wrapped in giant Brabus stickers so you’re always in eyeshot of the company name. It’s safe to say Constantin has branding well and truly figured out.
But all this focus on market positioning (and additional revenue streams) has not come at the expense of the product. Far from it. The firm’s bread and butter – 900hp 6×6 G Wagons, 930hp AMG GT 4 Doors, and so on – make up the bulk of the line-up, interspersed with ultra-limited models such as the 900 Rocket R and the barmy Crawler dune buggy. Brabus now modifies electric cars, too, with its take on the Mercedes-AMG EQS 53 actually improving the range of the standard car.
Naturally, the company still needs to OEMs to supply it with new models, meaning that if Mercedes were to shift exclusively to electric car production, then Brabus would be forced to follow suit. And while there’s clearly an appetite for EVs with mean-looking carbon body kits and blacked-out trim, Constantin believes there’s plenty of life left in the combustion engine. “I don’t think that’s going to go into go away. I don’t want that to go away. Because I find it deeply fascinating.”
Good to hear. But with the company focusing on more ambitious projects for the future, and a surprisingly massive facility spanning a leather shop to a classic restoration centre, could Brabus be tempted take on something as bold as its own engine project if (or more likely, when) the OEM supply starts to dwindle? “If we were to make our own very own combustion engine today, it would already be very, very expensive, and a very decisive strategic step. And that cost is going to increase in the next 10 years.” Let’s take that as a no for now then.
But even if a Brabus-built piston engine isn’t on the cards at the moment, Constantin is keen to stress that he’s constantly pushing the engineering team of around 50-60 staff to come up with bigger and bolder ideas. “I’m telling them give me more expensive products… I’m saying trust in yourself to put more budget into things that will fascinate because the customer base is telling us over and over again [to build more].”
He references the eight-figure Rolls-Royce Droptails and ‘new’ Lamborghini Countach as proof there’s a demand for ultra-expensive, bespoke commissions. The Brabus equivalent of those could take one of many forms: the Crawler proves it can take a car from Mercedes and turn it into anything it wants to, while a recent order for a new AMG One will see the firm deliver what will likely be its most powerful and most expensive product to date. And with a legacy spanning the best part of 50 years, you’d imagine Brabus has its eye on the booming restomod market.
“There is an appetite for it. I’ve been looking into this for the last three years. I mean, I am exactly that customer”, says Constantin. He admits it’s still a “niche” corner of the automotive market, though the tuner has a few “projects” that could see Brabus dip its toe into the restomod world. “Developing means we’re developing. It doesn’t always mean it’s going to turn into something we like. But it’s certainly an area that we’re investigating. Strongly.”
Whatever Brabus is working on, there’s a very good chance we’ll be blindsided by it. Make no mistake, Brabus will continue to be a famed Mercedes tuner and it still operates as a service centre for the three-pointed star. But if there’s anything to glean from our chat with Constantin, it’s that he’s a disruptor – just like his father was back in 1977. Given the car industry’s obsession with ‘mobility’ and joy-sapping appliances generally, we need companies like Brabus to balance out the dreariness, whether it’s with a silly, six-wheeled G Wagon or a 700hp Rolls-Royce Ghost. With a Buschmann in charge, it’s unlikely that’ll change anytime soon.
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