Mercedes defies slowdown : Luxury carmaker records 10-per-cent rise in sales despite heavy fall in premium segment

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Stephan Moebius, vice president for sales and marketing at Mercedes-Benz Thailand.

Against the tide of slowdown in Thailand’s auto industry, the country’s leading producer of premium cars, Mercedes-Benz Thailand, recorded a 10-per cent year-on-year increase in sales during the first three quarters of the year.

This is despite a 19-per-cent drop in sales for the entire premium-vehicles segment in the same period. The premium segment is expected to finish the full year down 5-6 per cent.

In the first 10 months of the year, Mercedes-Benz sold 3,278 units. Last year, 7,900 units were sold in the entire premium segment. Of these, 3,502 were Mercedes-Benz vehicles.

“Although we’re ahead of our competitors, we’re still working hard to maintain this position,” said Stephan Moebius, vice president for sales and marketing. “Every year is a fresh battle and we will be even more diligent next year.

Even though the market has shrunk, we’ve seen a growth in our sales, which shows the trust customers have in our products and services. However, we believe that this year was a wait-and-see period for many customers who were unsure about the political and economic situation in Thailand.”

Products like luxury vehicles, which are quite highly priced because of taxation, are items that customers will hold back on buying until they feel safe. This has led the company to believe that after the December 23 election, the market will likely see a sharp growth in purchase of automobiles in general, even in the premium segment. The Thai market is very unpredictable, and rises or falls can be as high as 10 per cent, he said.

The company recently launched the new C-Class as its “bread-and-butter” model. Although all current versions are imported in completely built-up (CBU) form, the company will begin selling completely knocked-down (CKU) versions that have been assembled at its Thon Buri plant next year. The C-Class comes in both Elegance and Avantgarde versions.

“As the auto market develops, we’ve seen that customers want more choices, and we’re working to incorporate all these needs into the vehicles we provide. For example, the Avantgarde and Elegance versions of the C-Class are clearly distinct. While one leans towards comfort, the other leans towards sportiness. Even the suspension characteristics are different,” Moebius said.

The wide variety of choices is clearly visible in the E-Class, which is available with petrol, diesel and even compressed-natural-gas (CNG) engines. Customer requirements for a chauffeur-driven E-Class in Thailand are different from those for self-driven models in Europe. The E-Class in Thailand appeals to those who own fleets, need economy or even want sportiness. This is the reason why more sporty models like the SLK and SLR supercars are displayed at show stands.

“Although the core brand values of safety and comfort will always remain in Mercedes-Benz vehicles, we want our customers to know that our vehicles can handle curvy roads, as well,” Moebius said.

The company’s focus this year will be on its main C-, E- and S-Class models, because they produce the biggest sales. Alongside them will be models like the B- and A-Class, SLK, CLS and many other sporty alternatives.

Moebius said the best way to attract customers was to allow them to experience the cars on test-drive days. A salesperson then explains the differences between the new- and older-generation vehicles.

“Customers’ reaction to the C-Class has been very impressive. The CBU models are for those who want the car immediately, while the CKD versions will be ready for delivery by the first quarter of next year,” Moebius said.

The new C-Class will be available with a petrol or diesel engine. Mercedes-Benz is unlikely to offer a CNG version.

The company has faced a recent problem of grey-market importers selling models that have been launched abroad before their official launch in Thailand.

“This is an expression of a free-market economy,” Moebius said. “There are no restrictions on where customers can buy their cars. We are in fact thankful to customers who have chosen the Mercedes-Benz brand, despite having bought from grey-market importers. However, we would prefer that they buy from a Mercedes-Benz dealer, because a complete service package can be provided.”

He said working with the dealers, After-Sales, Marketing and other divisions within the company were also important. Feedback about customers was needed

from dealers, so that the company could better understand their needs.

Vijo Varghese

The Nation

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