What is your brand’s overall strategy for the Middle East?
Our strategy is to be the leading luxury passenger car and SUV brand in the Middle East and Levant.
How does the Middle East market respond?
We are one of the oldest luxury brands in the region with ties to many of our authorized distributors for over 50 years. The Mercedes-Benz brand has always represented quality and innovation and will continue to do so which is why we continue to be the leading German luxury automotive brand in the Middle East and Levant.
How has Mercedes-Benz responded to market demands?
Our customers are important and we always listen to them. For example, it was a customer who suggested that we should build a special version of our Mercedes SLR McLaren to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Mille Miglia victory by Stirling Moss. We responded by introducing the limited edition ‘722’ version that had its world media premiere in Dubai at the beginning of this year.
What percent of your brand’s overall sales go to the Middle East and how many units are sold?
The Middle East and Levant, excluding Iran, Iraq and Egypt, account for approximately 1% of the company’s turnover, of which approximately 90% is achieved in the countries of the GCC. Within the GCC, the UAE and Saudi Arabia account for over half of the total 2006 volumes and around 60% of GCC sales.
In 2006, the Mercedes Car Group (Mercedes-Benz passenger cars, Maybach and SLR McLaren), sold a record 15,675 vehicles, a12.8% increase over the previous year’s figure of 13,898.
Are you growing in the Middle East?
Sales of Mercedes passenger cars continue to grow every year because we constantly introduce a range of innovative new products and also ensure we offer the best available sales and after sales service.
The Middle East is one of DaimlerChrysler’s largest markets particularly for Maybach and SLR. Basically, Mercedes-Benz sales in the Middle East and Levant form an inverted pyramid, unlike almost any other market region, whereby the S-Class forms the base with a share of Mercedes-Benz sales of more than 30% and the B-Class the tip. The total market for smaller vehicles is significant, particularly for fleet and rental, and especially in those markets with a high expatriate component, but generally the region remains disproportionately that of a “large car” market.
In light of increased liquidity in the Gulf, has your brand responded specifically?
Middle East customers like to have special versions of their vehicles. At Mercedes-Benz our Designo range allows them to choose their own interior design. In addition, our performance vehicle arm, Mercedes-AMG, has opened its own Performance Studio that can meet the individual requirements of any customer.
What are the difficulties faced by Mercedes-Benz in the Middle East market?
Vehicles have to be equipped to cope with the environmental conditions pertinent to the region generating heat, dust and humidity and, in some areas, rough roads. It is worth mentioning that only cars from authorized distributors meet the homologation requirements defined to deal with these conditions. In terms of customer comfort, customers are no different to those in other countries.
On a local level, how are you competing against others?
We position ourselves as the premium luxury automotive brand. We maintain that position by annually outselling the competition.
Has the Middle East/GCC market influenced design?
Car clinics for future designs include representatives from the region. The Middle East plays a significant role in hot weather testing for all our Mercedes-Benz models.
What is your best-selling model?
For some years, the S-Class has been and continues to be the region’s favorite luxury sedan. As I said, the region remains a “large car market”. Last year, the new S-Class continued its tremendous success with 6,272 units sold compared to 3,937 in 2005.
Does Mercedes-Benz have a CSR commitment to alternative energy? Does this issue and ecological awareness play any role in your Middle East operations, or do you think that at this time it is a “lost cause” in the region?
We do not believe the Middle East and Levant is a lost cause. The governments of Dubai and Abu Dhabi are aware of the problems and are moving to make a difference with Dubai investigating the introduction of hybrid public transport and Abu Dhabi set to introduce cleaner diesel fuel.
DaimlerChrysler revealed its agenda for the future at the recent Frankfurt Motor Show with a display of 19 new models, among them seven hybrids and the trailblazing F700 research vehicle that uses the innovative DiesOtto engine which combines the best elements of both diesel and petrol engines.