From Maybach to mtu: A history of technological innovation

Posted on June 10, 2002

The birthplace of the automobile brand name Maybach is Friedrichshafen on Lake Constance, in a company belonging to DaimlerChrysler AG; MTU Friedrichshafen.
Friedrichshafen - The birthplace of the automobile brand name Maybach is Friedrichshafen on Lake Constance, in a company belonging to DaimlerChrysler AG; MTU Friedrichshafen. mtu, today one of the world's most important manufacturers of high-performance diesel engines and complete propulsion systems for off-highway applications, dates back to Maybach-Motorenbau GmbH. Founded in 1909 by Wilhelm and Karl Maybach in Bissingen an der Enz, Maybach-Motorenbau was established in Friedrichshafen in 1912 to build engines for Graf Zeppelin's airships.

Wilhelm Maybach was the long-standing business partner of Gottlieb Daimler, the founder of Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft. Maybach developed the first high-speed petrol engine and in 1901 built the Mercedes car, the first modern automobile. The French dubbed him the constructor king. He was one of the most important automobile designers the world has known.

Maybach-Motorenbau was able to develop lightweight, powerful and fire-resistant engines that proved their value in civil airships. In addition to airship engines, Maybach-Motorenbau was soon also making engines for airplanes. The world's first high-altitude engine, type Mb IVa, which delivered the same performance at altitude as it did on the ground was a complete success.

Following the Treaty of Versailles Maybach-Motorenbau was prevented from building aero-engines, even for civil aircraft. The company was forced to change its entire production range at short notice. They began to develop diesel engines for locomotives and ships and also returned to the automobile. Karl Maybach, the director, wanted to specialize in building engines and gearing for other automobile manufacturers. The Dutch automobile factory Trompenburg ordered engines from Maybach for their exclusive Spykercar, but then got into financial difficulties and was no longer able to take the engines.

As a result of this, Karl Maybach decided to build automobiles himself. His goal was to produce the most technically advanced and sophisticated automobile. The very first Maybach car, Type W 3, caused a sensation at the automobile exhibition in Berlin in 1921. Maybach vehicles became known for their powerful engines and modern preselector transmission, the forerunner of today's automatic transmission. In 1929 the company launched the famous Maybach Type 12 onto the market. Alongside Horch's vehicles, this model was the first pre-war German car with a 12 cylinder engine. The swept volume of the engine was seven and later eight liters, the power rating was 150 or 200hp. The Maybach "Zeppelin", as the car was called from 1931 onwards, cost up to 50,000 Reichsmarks; at the time one would have been able to buy five freestanding houses or 33 Opel P4 cars for the same amount.

The number of cars produced was correspondingly low. By 1940 only 200 vehicles of this type had been built. The Maybach was first and foremost a luxury prestige item. With the exception of the sporty convertibles, a chauffeur was a standard accessory. Maybach owners were prominent people: kings, the higher nobility, heads of state, high-ranking politicians, company presidents or the stars of show business - the lists of buyers preserved at mtu read like a "Who's Who" of the top ten thousand of the 20s and 30s in Germany and numerous other countries, right down to the Indian maharajahs.

At the beginning of the 30s German yacht-making shipyards - particularly Lürssen - built numerous fast motorboats for customers in the USA. All of these were powered by airship and diesel engines from Maybach. At the time the Friedrichshafen company also owned two demonstration boats moored on Lake Constance. Alongside the building of airships, Maybach also developed a streamlined form for locomotives in a wind tunnel, which can be seen as the forerunner of today's high-speed trains, particularly in the case of the famous "Fliegende Hamburger" (Flying Hamburger).

After the Second World War, Karl Maybach rescued his factory by agreeing to produce engines for France as long as production was allowed to continue at the plant in Friedrichshafen. The main market for Maybach-Motorenbau was the railroad, yet the high power to size ratio also meant that the series had no competition in the propulsion of fast ships.

Despite economic successes at the end of the 50s Karl Maybach's successor, Jean Raebel recognized that the company needed to form a partnership in order to be able to survive in the long term. He found this partner in Daimler-Benz AG, which was also looking for a partner in the area of heavy-duty engines. The 60s were thus dominated by the fusion with the heavy-duty engines division from Stuttgart-Untertürkheim. In 1969 Daimler-Benz and MAN established MTU Friedrichshafen, which was to build high-speed diesel engines in the output range between 1000 and 10,000 hp. The main markets were soon found to be abroad. By the beginning of the 90s over 70% of the engines were being exported. Revenues rose from DEM 270 million in 1970 to over EUR 1.1 billion in 2001. Following the takeover of the American engine manufacturer Detroit Diesel Corporation (DDC) by DaimlerChrysler AG in 2000, the group has concentrated its off-highway activities in the product unit "DaimlerChrysler Powersystems Off-Highway". MTU Friedrichshafen has taken the leadership of this product unit. This business area is oriented towards fields of application in places other than on the road - thus off-highway. This includes for example watercraft, rail vehicles, heavy agricultural machinery and electric power generators. In addition to diesel engines, mtu also uses gas engines and gas turbines as drive components and is currently developing fuel cells to production standards. The power output ranges between 20 to 9,000 kW (30 to 12,000 hp).

In 2001 mtu achieved revenues of EUR 1,128 million, with the ship market as the most important performer generating 44% of the total. The company is also active in the markets for decentralized energy systems (18%), military vehicles (9%) and railroad vehicles (8%). The Detroit Diesel brand covers the markets for construction and industrial machinery, mining vehicles and agricultural machinery. Beyond this mtu produces drive shafts for passenger cars and light commercial vehicles (11%), as well as for the new Maybach. Via its subsidiary L'Orange injection systems for diesel, heavy oil and gas engines also form part of the product range. MTU Friedrichshafen and its subsidiaries MTU Asia Pte. Ltd., mtu Australia PTY. Ltd. and L'Orange GmbH form the mtu Group. mtu has twelve subsidiaries and is represented on every continent.