Wheels (Australia) - - CONTENTS -

FAR BE­LOW, Cap Fer­rat juts into the Mediter­ranean. The wa­ter sparkles brightly in the clear, late-morn­ing light. Down there some­where is a fab­u­lous early 20th-cen­tury villa built by Beatrice Roth­schild, of the famed in­ter­na­tional bank­ing fam­ily. I squint against the glare, but fail to spy the pink-painted place.

Around 20 years ago Mercedes-Benz staged a new-model launch there. I can’t re­call for sure what it was. It may have been that bob-tailed abom­i­na­tion, the C-Class SportCoupe. What­ever it was, it was clearly for­get­table.

What I do re­mem­ber with ab­so­lute clar­ity is the spare-no­ex­pense flavour of the event. Mercedes-Benz dur­ing the reign of Jür­gen Schrempp – CEO of Daim­ler-Benz from 1995 to 2005 and mas­ter­mind of the dis­as­trous Daim­lerChrysle­r merger – was of­ten like that.

One sight in par­tic­u­lar re­mains very vivid. It’s the im­age of the cos­tumed per­former sus­pended in a har­ness be­neath a bal­loon, her ma­noeu­vres aided by tether-hold­ing as­sis­tants hid­ing in the shrub­bery. The sole aim of this grace­ful rou­tine was to pro­vide a few mo­ments of vis­ual en­ter­tain­ment for the guests as they walked through the villa’s ex­ten­sive gar­dens in the gath­er­ing dusk. But that was long ago...

To­day we’re at the mod­ern Villa Bayview in Ville­franche-sur-Mer, just to the east of Nice. Again it’s a Mercedes-Benz event. We’re here for a pre­view, un­der strict em­bargo, of the Mercedes-May­bach GLS 600. I step onto the villa’s ter­race and scan the sky, but there’s no-one twirling in a tutu over­head.

Ul­tra-ex­pen­sive mega-SUVs for the super wealthy aren’t things that ex­cite or in­ter­est me in the slight­est. They’re os­ten­ta­tious, in­ef­fi­cient and, for the vast ma­jor­ity of driv­ing hu­man­ity, ut­terly ir­rel­e­vant. Still, the event wasn’t a com­plete waste of time.

In a down­stairs room at Villa Bayview, Sabine En­gel­hardt is host­ing a work­shop. She’s a fu­tur­ol­o­gist who, for the past 20-plus years, has an­a­lysed the so­cial forces and cul­tural trends that will shape the car in­dus­try in com­ing years. Her work guides de­ci­sion mak­ing on over­all strate­gies and prod­uct plans for all Daim­ler’s brands.

But she’s here to talk about her side­line ac­tiv­ity in the arena of aroma. En­gel­hardt works with per­fumers to de­sign car scents, in­clud­ing the 11-strong range de­vel­oped specif­i­cally for May­bach. It’s a well-known fact that the rich are very picky about what goes up their nos­trils, af­ter all.

It’s a topic well out­side my zone of in­ter­est, but En­gel­hardt is the kind of spe­cial­ist who can make their sub­ject ac­ces­si­ble. She’s able to out­line, in lan­guage I can un­der­stand, the ba­sics of scent de­sign. It’s more com­pli­cated than you’d think, partly be­cause the per­fume in­dus­try works con­stantly to de­velop new syn­thetic mol­e­cules with pre­vi­ously unsmelt aro­mas. Some are so pow­er­ful that they can only be used in minute pro­por­tions.

As a fu­tur­ol­o­gist, En­gel­hardt has ideas which way the scented wind is blow­ing. Ex­pect a re­vival of ’70s favourites like patchouli and musk, she tells me.

In the mean­time, I’ve taken to check­ing what’s in the aroma dis­pensers found in the test cars I drive at launch events. The names are of­ten much less sub­tle than the con­tents. My favourite so far? ‘Gin­gery Mood’, found in a Mercedes-Benz GLE 53 Coupe at the in­ter­na­tional un­veil in Aus­tria.

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