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Mercedes-Benz ML-Class. Photos provided to China Daily
Editor's note: In early 2010 when Nicholas Speeks took over Mercedes-Benz' operations in Japan, the biggest global automotive industry news was that China had just overtaken the US as the world's largest vehicle market.
At the time, the Brit would've never guessed that just three years later, he'd take over as head of Mercedes-Benz in China, the fastest growing, and most challenging market in the world.
As a senior executive with 33 years with the brand, Speeks told China Daily reporter Li Fangfang that he is confident about the newly established Beijing Mercedes-Benz Sales Service Co., and in his ability to convince the discerning Chinese customer that Mercedes-Benz is cool.
Q: China is your third largest market, behind only Germany and the United States. Do you believe that China will become Mercedes' top market during your term?
A: Germany and the US are markets we have been developing for a long time. Germany, for the last 127 years and we have been in the US since the early 1950s.
So with Mercedes-Benz in China, there has been very rapid growth from a relatively low base. Not so many years ago, we sold 16,000 cars and last year we sold more than 200,000 cars.
The company is very young, and the market is very volatile. It is not a question of if; it is simply a question of when China will be the biggest and most significant market that Mercedes-Benz has worldwide.
Q: Have you already made a difference in your first three months?
A: Three months is a short period of time to find where you are and even try to understand a little bit the business in which you are involved. In the first 100 days, we formed the new company Beijing Mercedes-Benz Sales Service Co, which is a joint venture between BAIC Group and Daimler.
It is a process of integrating two teams. This normally takes nine months and we got that done in two months and a half.
Q: During this progress, have you met any challenges or difficulties?
A: Of course there are challenges and difficulties, as in any industry; in particular I am new here.
This is a very versatile market, a very complicated market which is very huge. If you combine the UK, France, Spain and Australia, basically you got an idea of what we are facing here in China.
I am trying to understand what has happened here, understand the market dynamics; understand the constraints but also the ambitions of our partners and our team here.
Q: What is your sales target for 2013?
A: Our pillar models including the S-Class, GLK-Class, ML-Class and B-Class are performing very well in the market and as such, I believe our sales this year will grow steadily. We have new products in 2013 including the new A-Class, new E-Class long, new concept GLA and CLS Shooting Brake launching at Auto Shanghai this year.
By 2015, we will have 20 face-lifted or new products in China. For 2013, we are confident that we can exceed last year's results. Because the launch of our new products will occur in the second half of 2013, we expect the sales of Mercedes-Benz in China to see an increase in Q3 and Q4.
Q: During last two years, Mercedes-Benz has been growing more slowly in China. What's your plan to help Mercedes to catch up?
A: No doubt, we will pick up the pace and sustain it. But it has to be done in a way that does not damage the brand. People buy our car because they believe they buy a premium brand.
They expect the car to retain its value. In the long term, we have to do it in a sustainable and profitable way. It's based upon the value we represent as a premium brand.
We were the fastest growing brand between 2006 and 2010. Over the past two years, we experienced some model changeover issues, but those issues have now been addressed.
In the coming years, we will focus on a customer-oriented business strategy, to further develop and reinforce our business from product, dealer network, and after-sales aspects.
In addition to the new products I mentioned earlier, this year we are putting in place more than 75 new dealer outlets in China, 45 percent of which will be outside tier-one cities.
Also, Mercedes-Benz' after-sales is dedicated to the overall customer ownership experience. We will continue making our best efforts to provide service that matches the quality level of our products.
Q: What new initiatives has Mercedes introduced to China to reinforce the service sector?
A: We continue to provide a benchmark three-year warranty without mileage limitations to our Chinese customers, and since Feb 1 we have offered car owners a more competitive maintenance cost structure over the life of their vehicle.
In the meantime, more value-added services are available to our customers in order to live up to Mercedes-Benz' "My Service" brand promise, including Vehicle Familiarization Workshops, Seasonal Service Campaigns and a tailor-made Service App.
We are also focused on enhancing our overall training capacity in China to guarantee the sustainable development of retail staff talent who in turn will provide the best retail service to our customers. Our Chengdu training center, Mercedes-Benz' largest outside Germany in terms of scale, just opened this past Tuesday.
Q: How would you like to build Mercedes-Benz' image in China?
A: Mercedes-Benz is a very aspirational and respected brand in China. While our business here is developing fast, we will try our best to make the Mercedes-Benz brand more approachable and closer to our Chinese customers.
When people think about Mercedes, I want them to associate our brand with being cool, about being comfortable and confident. I am not young, but I am eager to be associated with this cool brand. We are about innovation, products, and services.
It's about creating an environment that makes people feel comfortable.
We need to address that at whatever age, Chinese people do want to feel cool. It's difficult to define but you will know it when you see it.
(China Daily 04/19/2013 page15)